A Word on Creativity and Imagination

Are the kids today more or less imaginative then the older generations?

I was born in 1977. Although Finland is now clearly a western society, even though we seem to be regressing somewhat due to the economic situation, in those days we were still a backwater country. In only two decades or so, we became a huge deal compared to our size (around five million people) due to Nokia. We are not on the top anymore, but we’re still basically on an upswing, assimilating new technologies.

However, when I was a kid, in school, one of the stories I kept hearing from the older people was about how they had to cope with the lack of toys. They would make their toys themselves. They would have pinecones and needles and make toys from those. You know, cows and sheep and whatever. They were using this as an example of how they needed the imagination to cope.

Well, based on the fact that they either couldn’t come up with anything more interesting as kids, or they needed to co-opt such a boring story (I’ve tried building cows and sheep from those materials with my little sister and we decided to leave it that pretty quickly), they didn’t have much in the way of imagination or creativity. Their lives on farms were highly regimented, so there wasn’t much need for that. This is actually contrary to how more primitive people live. They actually need to cope with different situations daily, so they actually have creativity.

How did it come about? Whereas in a farm you have a limited number of crops and/or animals (in Finland, due to the climate, there’s usually plenty of animals), which you tend. Its routine. In a hunter-collector society, things change all the time and you need to adapt quickly. There aren’t any services you can use, but instead you are responsible for your own healthcare, tools and whatever. These people acquire a lot of knowledge throughout their lives. Knowledge about different plants and how to use, knowledge on animal behavior, knowledge on toolmaking and so forth.

… and that knowledge is what makes them creative. Being creative is about combining things in a new way. So, the more things you know, the more possible combinations you have. If you don’t have the basis for this, you’ll end up just making the things you see everyday in order to have “fun”. Like making cows and sheep out of what you find in the forest.

So, what about the kids today? They are bombarded by different influences and they have access to whatever information they might feel they need. They see more every day than those elders saw in their whole childhoods.

Are they more creative and imaginative then their story-hogging ancestors? Definitely. We’ll just have to wait and see how much.

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