The Visual and the Literal: How Technology is Influencing Creativity Amongst Different Disciplines
We’ve all seen teenagers on the T, on the edge of their seat, attempting to defeat that next level of Candy Crush Saga. Today’s youth are completely absorbed by their technological devices, which has begun to raise some concerning questions. Many are beginning to wonder whether technology is impeding creativity in today’s youth. While it has been argued that using such digital gadgets may increase motor or logical thinking skills, the question of whether this infatuation with technology supports or hinders out-of-the-box thinking is still up for debate. This is an area of interest which researchers have begun to explore in more depth as several studies have discovered a significant decline in creativity over the past few decades. These studies, however, analyzed overarching creative thinking skills, using such quantitative measures as the Torrance Test of Creativity Thinking (TTCT). Consequently, it was unclear whether this downward trend was indicative of creativity, in general, verses creativity within specific domains, such as visual and literary arts. And so, in addition to exploring whether technology is at the root of these changes, a group of Harvard researchers set out to determine how different facets of creativity have reacted to changes over the past few decades.
Good Project researchers Emily Weinstein, Zachary Clark, Donna DiBartolomeo, and Katie Davis specifically set out to determine how the style, content, and form of adolescents’ art-making and creative writing has changed over the last twenty years. Their study, “A Decline in Creativity? Depends on the Domain,” is to be published in Creativity Research Journal. A sample of visual artwork was selected from monthly publications of a magazine showcasing teen work and consisted of 177 pieces published between 1990 and 1995, and 177 pieces from 2006 to 2011. The creative writing sample was similarly pulled from a teen publication, with 25 stories produced between 1990 and 1995, and 25 pieces from 2006 to 2011. The two samples were then coded, with the researchers focusing on background, composition, medium, and stylistic approach for visual artwork and genre, structure, style, and language for creative writing.
Ultimately the analysis revealed a rise in sophistication and complexity for visual artwork with an increase in fully rendered works, cropped pieces, unconventional works, and both non-traditional media works and digitally manipulated works. By contrast, the researchers observed a significant increase in young authors’ adherence to conventional writing practices related to genre and a trend toward more formulaic narrative style. Interestingly, the language also appeared more conversational, casual and invented. Taken together, these findings suggest a decreased conventionality in contemporary visual artwork and an increased adherence to more traditional approaches in contemporary creative writing. As such, the researchers’ method was successful in investigating the divergent pattern of creativity changes across domains. Calling upon previous studies, the researchers propose that these patterns may be explained by an increase in digital media technology coupled with a rise of standardized testing in schools. As more technology becomes readily available, visual art diversifies; conversely, as standard testing increases, written work becomes more structured and unoriginal. And so, if we don’t want creativity to be doomed, we may need to pay extra attention to domains where it is most at risk.