The Strangling Grip of the Information Age & How Our Creativity is Constrained

Making a piece of content may disrupt your neighbour’s flow state. 

The social media machine runs on its minions producing endless content. It never stops. The content may be factual or false. Gold or garbage. The content can go into oblivion, never seen by anyone; it can also go viral.

Nevertheless, we are pushers of content.

But are we content with that?

Are we content that the endless amounts of information pushed at us are detrimental to true creativity?

It certainly seems like the best books written on typewriters are behind us.

Is the information age the reason for this?

If it is, that’s ironic. We have access to all the knowledge in the world, however, that doesn’t lead to increased creativity. We are logical and know many facts, but this information stunts our creativity.

Dr. Martin Hilbert from USC and Dr. Priscilla Lopez from Open University of Catalonia crunched some numbers that put us squarely in the information age:

  • All the information that bombards a person in 1986 amounts to 40 newspapers worth of info every day.
  • In 2007, this number has risen to 174 newspapers.

To Kill a Mocking Bird, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice, 1984, Alice in Wonderland, and Paradise Lost came from an era when these numbers were probably in the single digits. Even then, these authors, invested in true creativity, were too busy to consume it.

The classics are classics because they are original.

Will the 21st century bless us with a classic work?

We’ll have to wait and see. It may be that books written in the 21st century haven’t been on the shelves for as long as these mentioned.

However, it may be the case that the information age is undermining the potential to create timeless classics such as these. Here are three reasons for that:

  1. The Information Age causes us to task switch too often.
  2. Our minds wander less.
  3. We have our Google Goggles on.

Task Switching Limits Creativity

Social media apps are the task we switch to.

This is not a task but mindless consumption.

This switching breaks the flow state where creativity is effortless and therapeutic. When we get back on task, our minds take some time to refocus on what we neglected for a minor hit of dopamine.

Task switching is the flow state’s enemy.

Following a flow experience, the organization of the self is more complex than it had been before.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from his book Flow

If the flow state makes us complex and rich, disrupting it through task switching keeps us fragmented and simple. Carry on this habit of task switching and we become no different from an animal whose object of attention is in constant flux. Task switching disrupts flow due to the switch-cost effect. Our return to focus involves a time lag and a dip in overall performance as we are prone to make errors.

Professor Earl Miller, one of the top neuroscientists at MIT, explains the detriments of task-switching to our creativity:

If you ‘spend a lot of this brain-processing time switching and error-correcting, Earl explained, you are simply giving your brain less opportunity to ‘follow your associative links down to new places and really [have] truly original and creative thoughts.’

— From Stolen Focus by Johann Hari

Since the allure of social media drives task switching, what drives social media?

It’s the content mill…

“Every time you create a piece of content from a state of flow, know that you are potentially disrupting your neighbour’s flow.”

But, somehow, we need our voice heard…

Social media is noisy, filled with contradiction and echo chambers.

Chaotic environments like this create noise, while creativity and flow rest on bringing order.

The Wonder of Mind-Wandering

Old people have it figured out.

They’ve lived most of their lives in a world without the Internet. Millennials, like myself, are probably the last generation to remember what it was like when the internet was in its infancy.

Let me paint you a picture:

The park has two benches, one with a teenager sitting on it and another with an elderly person.

Who do you think is the first to pull out their phone? It’s the teenager.

Give us youngbloods a glimpse of unstimulated boredom, and we pull out our phones as a remedy.

The veterans sit back and let their minds wander freely.

Before you call me a boomer, let me tell you why mind-wandering is beneficial.

We’re all Wearing Google Goggles

Google is the go-to guy for advice. 

In the 1950s, maybe you’d go to your wise granddad.

Or maybe you had to make the trip to the library.

As inconvenient as it sounds, getting your answers from something other than Google has its benefits.

The Benefits of Taking Off Your Google Goggles

You never know where it will lead.

It could be the start of a great relationship, an adventure, or simply a way to reconnect with someone you trust more than Google.

In addition to this, a break from Google allows our minds to wander more.

Instead of going straight to Google for an answer, you stop being so soft. You begin to search the crevasses of your mind for an answer. The imagination fills in the blanks and maybe you come up with an answer Google would never arrive at.

Or it could just lead to a fecundity of questions.

Please let a question remain unanswered by not Googling it. When these questions marinate, our subconscious minds pry at them for an answer. Eventually, we reach an insight that provides answers- infinitely richer than Google would ever provide.

Stopping Information Flow Requires Egoless Flow

I felt like everywhere I went, I was surrounded by people who were broadcasting but not receiving. Narcissism, it occurred to me, is a corruption of attention — it’s where your attention becomes turned in only on yourself and your ego. 

Johann Hari from Stolen Focus

Our social media channels serve as mini broadcasts of ourselves to the world.

The ego’s need to maintain itself fuels social media. Self-consciousness opposes the flow state defined by the temporary elimination of egoic consciousness.

From this state, we get timeless works of art in all forms.

There is no other state to produce them from.

Could you imagine George Orwell creating 1984 from a narcissistic frame to demonstrate his writing prowess to the world? No, he, and other great authors, create selflessly.

In the modern day, we have the tools to showcase our creations to the world in seconds.

These tools can tickle our egos as we broadcast content to serve the ego.

Or, we can create from a state of egoless flow without any attachment to the feedback.

To do this, we need a temporary cork on the endless information.


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