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Just how much can technology do for us?

There is a debate about just how far IT can go to improve life, but as Billy MacInnes muses, it does sometimes deliver what the public wants

The people who create and sell IT may promise all kinds of things and, in some cases, with what appears to be the most unrestrained and outlandish language. Never mind. We’ve all become inured to it now. Does anyone know how many technologies have come and gone, revolutionising our world and lives on their way?

At heart, technology is an enabler, a tool to improve processes and make tasks better or simpler. We all know that. For the most part, that’s one of the biggest selling points. Even smartphones are sold in terms of their features, such as the camera, display and battery life.

What no one realistically tries to claim is that a smartphone or laptop will make you more creative. It will give you more tools to use in the service of your creativity, but it can’t provide the spark that ignites it.

I mention this because of a recent interview in The Wall Street Journal with legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, in which he touched on exactly that point. “Creative ability is about pulling old elements together and making something new, and I dont believe silicon chips and passwords know anything about those elements, or where they are,” he said.

When someone picks up a guitar, poises their fingers over a keyboard, starts a video, points a camera or begins writing a sentence, they’re not doing it because of technology. Technology may well be the tool they use to help them create something, but they would still do it without the technology.

We have always created images, for example, whether it be on a cave wall, a canvas or a computer screen. The urge to create that image comes from us and we use the form available to us to give expression to it. How we present that creativity may change according to the tools we have to help us, but the need to express it remains undimmed, irrespective of what form we choose to convey it.

As with all tools, how we use technology can help us express our creativity, or it can get in the way. We can get lost in the possibilities and choices that technology provides, our creativity distracted by the dense tangle of meaningless options and features that lead us further and further away from the initial spark we started with.

Creativity is not something that technology can initiate or replicate. As Dylan put it: “Creativity is a mysterious thing. It visits who it wants to visit, when it wants to, and I think that that, and that alone, gets to the heart of the matter.” After 60 years of songwriting, he probably has a good idea what he’s talking about.

Vox Populi Vox Dei

The opposite of creativity is destruction, and that’s something technology has helped us with too, over the ages. On that subject, it’s been morbidly entertaining to see Elon Musk make such a mess of Twitter since he took it over. Seeing his reign as CEO of the social media site ended by a Twitter poll was unintentionally hilarious. Vox Populi Vox Dei.

After a period of Twitter silence where it was unclear whether Musk would abide by the result of his own poll, he tweeted: “I will resign as CEO as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job!”

On the one hand, there’s some truth in the argument that you’d have to be foolish to take the job, if only because of what Musk has done to Twitter since he bought the company in October 2022.

But on the other hand, if you think about it creatively, someone who took the job, went in and reversed nearly every decision Musk made while he was CEO, could well be hailed as a saviour and genius.

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