Is Modern Technology Killing Children’s Creativity?

"All children do these days is watch videos on...what is it...FaceTube?" - a common complaint of the older generation everywhere. But is it fair? Have children lost something through being born in a digital age? M. Menckens, pessimist extraordinaire, explores.

Usually I am very cynical on the subject matter of technology and its new, redundant, and frankly repugnant usage. Do I really want to see that picture of you, holding an (albeit, very cool) expensive alcoholic drink in a large group of friends in a dark room? Or, how about your ‘crushed’ avocado on a fresh sourdough roll (dott disclaimer: we like avocado on toast)? To be honest, not really. However, on the subject of creativity, my cynicism takes a break.

According to a recent survey, up to two thirds of parents say they think their children spend too much time on their ‘entertainment devices’ (iPods, games consoles etc.). Anecdotally, we all know children who seem to spend more time looking at their small, lit-up rectangle then engaging in the ‘real world’, don’t we?

Firstly, what is 'creativity' anyway?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, creativity is the “use of imagination or original ideas to create something.”

Older generations discuss creativity in the context of their childhood as building things, spending time outside, making up dance routines and creating make-believe games (see my god-daughter's "dinosaur" below as an examples of traditional creativity). 

Even I, as a 24-year old, can remember as a child building treehouses and creating fictional towns with functioning currency and rental property (with highly uncompetitive rates). Oh, the fun my siblings and I used to have.

From this starting point, you can see how parents look at children these days and conclude creativity is dead. Surely spending time on a smartphone talking to friends over social networking sites and watching clips on YouTube of hilarious dogs in ties cannot be classified as creativity? With this, I would agree. However, modern technology has a lot more to offer.

What is creativity in the digital age?

Whilst trying not to sound ageist, there is a raft of functionality on modern devices that previous generations are simply not aware of. Yes, a computer can be used for more than Facebook and printing emails.

A very good example of modern day creativity among children is Minecraft. As a reminder for the uninitiated, Minecraft is a virtual world in which players can build a variety of objects (houses, hospitals, cars etc.) using blocks of wood and metal.

Some people associate Minecraft with being nerdy and a waste of time. However, is this really any different to playing with Lego but without the mess? Furthermore, Minecraft can be used to collaborate with friends to create entire cities or even to build functioning calculators (see below for some incredible examples). This virtual world opens up a raft of creative possibilities that have traditionally not been available.

There are many such examples of modern day creative outlets. Computer programming is arguably a creative pursuit in the same way that watercolour or potato printing is. A new computer program is like a blank canvas; you start with an entirely empty space and have to construct a game or website (among many others) using nothing but your mind and a programming language as your tool. Whilst still not adopted by the majority of children, computer programming is gaining in popularity and the UK government is on a big drive to promote its adoption in schools. Not only is computer programming a creative output, it stimulates logical thinking, dedication and, frankly, can lead to a very profitable long-term career (if you don’t believe me I point you in the direction of Mr. Gates or Mr. Zuckerberg).

Computer programming for kids may seem intimidating and daunting at first but there are a number of ways children can begin to tackle this unearthed gem. Scratch, a free web-based programming tool developed by MIT, allows children (and adults) to create programmes by joining puzzle pieces together. This allows them to natively create interactive stories, animated characters and simple games. At the same time as flexing their creative muscles, children are actually learning the basics of computer programming.

Creativity may not be as clear and obvious as it was 10 years ago, but it is still around in abundance. There are definitely arguments to make kids spend more time outside but, unfortunately, I do not believe creativity is one of them. For all of us, children or adults, interaction with our traditional physical world has definitely diminished. However, creativity is still prospering in the medium of the virtual world. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to peruse my account on Minecraft. If you are still questioning modern day creativity after that then, well, I give up.

Author: M. Menckens

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