Trends Driving Real-Time Creativity: Creativity Emerging Everywhere and Self-Expression as the New Imperative

Posted on August 7, 2013 by Marian Salzman

This is the third in a five-part series about how the news is being redefined by today’s real-time creative culture.

In my recent posts, I’ve been exploring the ways real time has blurred the lines between news and entertainment, fact and fiction, and the professional and the amateur. One of the biggest factors underlying this trend has been the massive democratization of creativity.

In 2011, a project started by computer programmer Jesse Anderson came close to proving the famous infinite monkey theorem, which states that a monkey hitting keys randomly on a keyboard for a limitless amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. The project involved virtual monkeys rather than real ones and kept only bits of writing that matched bits of Shakespeare; the rest was trashed.

The hundreds of millions of users posting content to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and the other major social platforms are—in general—a lot more skillful and purposeful than monkeys. Even so, these technologies have enabled anyone to create huge amounts of absorbing content without needing a clear idea of what they were producing or why they were producing it, nor any inkling that such things needed to be clearly defined. That isn’t just true for amateurs; the debate is still ongoing about whether professional photographers should be using tools such as Instagram. But these tools are giving everyone—amateurs and professionals, digital natives and latecomers—new venues, platforms, and means for expressing themselves, sharing things that interest them and experimenting with their creativity.

Plus, smartphones and their dizzying array of apps have put the tools of creation quite literally in everyone’s back pocket. And they’re always with us—we can shoot and edit a Vine video when insomnia strikes at 3 a.m., and we can share artfully “vintage” photos of our breakfast with our Instagram followers. We can all be professional stylists on Polyvore or video personalities on YouTube.

And so what if it looks amateurish? As long as it’s engaging, it doesn’t matter how rough-and-ready it looks. In fact, a big 2013 trend I spotted is the embracing of imperfection. People are getting bored with everybody in the media being surgically altered and Photoshop-enhanced. They like the authenticity of the heartfelt and nonprofessional.

This urge for everyone to create is further motivated by another of the major trends for 2013: the need for positivity. When the formal “news” is a torrent of twisted bombings, senseless shooting sprees, and dismal updates on the climate and the economy, there’s a growing desire to react to all that negativity by creating something positive. Maybe it’s just a distraction, but who doesn’t want to take a break from all the bleak headlines in their Twitter feed to watch a captivating video of something beautiful and uplifting?

In the emerging media ecosystem, we’ve all become omnivores, grazing from a crowdsourced buffet of content that’s literally growing by the minute. Satellite and cable TV gave us access to hundreds of channels, but that was just for starters. Now anyone with an Internet connection can call up content to satisfy their every whim. There are up-to-date unfolding news stories, live feeds of major international events like the Arab Spring or the Russian asteroid, captivating hoaxes like Balloon Boy, the perennially popular cat videos, celebrity gossip, oddball memes like Gangnam Style and the Harlem Shake, and the latest antics of friends and co-workers. The list, of course, goes on and on.

Some of the content is what you might expect from the infinite monkey theorem, but a lot of it is interesting, engaging, informative and creative in infinitely surprising ways. It’s mostly free, so none of it is going to outgross a Hollywood blockbuster. There’s so much of it, none is likely to match the simultaneous audiences of hit TV shows. But popular YouTube videos easily score hundreds of millions of views. Beyond the specific content, the tools of social media have a message for everyone: “Now you can do this, too.”

The massive amounts of material being created have made content curation one of today’s hot concepts. Content curation is the activity of anybody who “ingests, analyzes and contextualizes Web content and information of a particular nature onto a platform or into a format we can understand,” as Mashable puts it. In plain language, a content curator is somebody who knows how to find great content on a particular topic and regularly pulls it together in a form that makes sense. Like old-style media editors, curators don’t necessarily need to generate content themselves; they just need a knack for finding good stuff and presenting it well, whether on a social media platform such as Pinterest, on a dedicated blog or website, or in a newsletter such as theSkimm (U.S.) or Mr Hyde (U.K.).

Although the skills of curation might not necessarily be inborn, the tools of content creation might as well be. They’re part of that device that most of us have grown so attached to that it would practically have to be surgically removed: our phone. There’s no technical barrier, and that means there’s no excuse. Self-expression is the new imperative.

In a New York article a couple of years ago, writer-producer Michael Hirschorn looked at what the digital revolution did to the mediascape. He argued that along with so many other events of the first decade of the 2000s, it forced us all to become “brands of one,” whether we liked it or not. It’s all about the sell.

This dovetails with another real-time trend of 2013: the relentless rise of personal branding. As a recent trends report from Havas Worldwide (the company where I’m employed) explained it: “From infertile couples who want the attention of a birth mother who is adopting out her baby to lone rangers trying to stay relevant for the next big project (and employer), we’ll all need to be in branding mode to ensure that we have what it takes to be desirable in today’s marketplaces. It’s all part of a solutions mind-set.” It’s not enough to just be good at what you do. To succeed in the Darwinian environment of the digital world, you have to position yourself in a unique and compelling way. In other words, you have to stand out from the crowd, you have to be credible and you have to be memorable.

There are plenty of ways to achieve each of those individually. The harder task is to achieve all three. The best way to do that is to create a story—a narrative that hangs together. It’s the same as in predigital days: Crafting and shaping the evolving narrative is an essential strategic discipline.

[photo: creativecommons.org/ChrisL_AK]

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