19 Nov 2016

Imagination Lego - How the internet cultivates creativity

From Saturday Morning, 9:10 am on 19 November 2016

Human creativity, from daubed cave paintings to YouTube video sensations, is innate. But the internet has ushered in a new era in shared creative enterprise, argues David Gauntlett, allowing the like-minded to foster niche, but nourishing, online communities.  

Lego scientist, evil scientist

Professor Gauntlett leads Lego workshops for adults, with one planned for University of Victoria PhD students this month.   Photo: Flickr / Chris Christian

David Gauntlett is a professor of Creativity at the University of Westminster, and the author of several books, including one the everyday creative use of digital media.

He told Saturday Morning that even small instances of creativity can add up - boosting peoples' sense of well-being, which can make a big difference in their lives.

And now the internet has lowered the barrier of entry into many creative arenas, allowing people to share their handiwork - podcasts, YouTube videos, music or craft - to a small, but still meaningful, audience. 

"They don't need to have a big audience but they are communicating with like-minded people, which is good, and they are developing a sense of community," Professor Gauntlett says.

"Even if it's only … like 100 people spread across the whole country. If they're able to connect and do stuff that they're interested in then that's really good, and who cares if it isn't getting an audience of hundreds of thousands, which is the older mind-set."

David Gauntlett

David Gauntlett Photo: Supplied

He says there are intrinsic benefits in doing creative things but his research shows the social part is the most powerful.

And although people have been making art and craft since the earliest days of man, the internet has acted as an amplifier and an enabler, connecting like-minded people and allowing them to form ongoing online communities.

"One of the things I found in my research is that people have this need for recognition.

"I think it is part of the human experience that if you are able to show off what you have done to a bunch of people and they like it and give you good feedback, or even if they give you thoughtful critical feedback, that's actually a good thing." 

Lego - Serious play

Professor Gauntlett works with Lego, the plastic construction toy manufacturer, on innovation in creativity, play and learning.

He is in New Zealand this month for Victoria University's inaugural Creativity Week, where he will be conducting a Lego workshop for PhD students and deliver a public lecture.

In the workshops, adult participants make physical representations of abstract ideas: their emotions, how they feel about their jobs or how they work as team.

"It is very different from doing some sort of interview or focus group where you just get people talking, he says.

"And because you're building [something] physically, in 3D, in front of a group of people, you've got this thing you've made that you can talk about. The stories tend to be quite memorable, people open up quite a lot, they tell quite personal stories for some reason.

"Maybe just because it is such a strange thing to be doing, it puts them into a different kind of mind-set."  

And although it sounds a little a little kooky there is considerable scientific backing for the approach, from neurobiology, psychology and the Philosophy of Learning, Professor Gauntlett says. 

"It connects up a solid body of research. So on the one hand it sounds maybe a bit strange and whimsical but it's actually a serious thing which has very serious purposes," he says.