Embrace the remix, nothing is original: The case for combinatorial creativity
New York - based filmmaker, Kirby Ferguson made a four-part video series called Everything is a Remix that applies to all realms of creativity. He draws examples from Led Zeppelin to iPhone and argues that nothing is original and everything is a remix. In his TED talk, he mentions that:
Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self-made, we are dependent on one another, and admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness. It’s a liberation from our misconceptions, and it’s an incentive to not expect so much from ourselves and to simply begin.
He supports his arguments by quoting other visionaries as follows:
In his video series, he starts off by saying what remix is and how remix has been used widely in different disciplines.
Remix - to combine or edit existing materials to produce something new. Most Hollywood box-office hits rely on the existing material perhaps because the audience seeks familiarity. We’ve got stories that have been told, re-told, transformed, referenced, and converted since the dawn of cinema. New technologies often map their appearance and their features to technologies we already understand. This is called Skeuomorphism. Creation requires influence. Everything we make is a remix of existing creations, our lives, and the lives of others.
Again, he supports it by quoting yesteryear’s visionaries.
Kirby then, goes on to define creativity, it’s different elements and how technology encourages this act.
The act of creation is surrounded by fog of myths. Creativity isn’t magic. It’s by applying ordinary tools of thought to existing materials. Put simply, copying is how we learn. All artists spend their formative years producing derivative work. Nobody starts out original. We need copying to build a foundation of knowledge and understanding.
These are the basic elements of creativity - copy, transform, and combine. This is social evolution. Its who we are, its how we live, and its how we create.
The interdependency of our creativity has been obscured by powerful cultural ideas. But, technology is now exposing this connectedness. We are all building with the same materials. Sometimes, by coincidence we get some of the results, sometimes innovations seem just inevitable.
Henry ford supports this notion.
However, there are some system failures that hinders this creativity process.
For almost our entire history, ideas were free. But the growing dominance of the market economy where the products of our intellectual labors are bought and sold produced an unfortunate side effect - original creations can’t compete with the price of copies. This gave rise to loss aversion - we hate losing what we’ve got and we get territorial. When we copy, we justify it. When others copy, we will fight.
Maria Popova in one of her talks emphasizes this idea using the story of a tribe.
Our existing education system is not very encouraging to this phenomenon of combinatorial creativity even when it comes to reading books.
Here are more examples of geniuses who had employed combinatorial creativity in remixing works of art that has contributed to humanity's progress.
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