This post first appeared on Imperica.
Having put forward the idea that technology isn’t making us dumb, but our belief that technology intrinsically helps us be smarter and better at everything will bring about our cognitive demise, I’d like to offer a solution. We should learn to be curious again.
If only it was as easy as that, right? Like anything you want to get good at, curiosity doesn’t come easy. This isn’t just about clicking on any old link, or gluing your eyeballs to Twitter. You may well have to relearn this skill.
Schools like people to think the same, to have the same knowledge and be able to recite it at the drop of a hat. And, like a teacher’s salary, it’s not a good thing. We need people to have a range of skills, knowledge and ability to make this world we live in work best for all. Some kids will be able to code; some won’t. Some will speak more than one language; some won’t. Some kids will be able to code and speak another language; some won’t.
Here’s a scary thought for some: there will be kids who can’t do either, but will be good at pushing paint around a canvas and making an aesthetically pleasing thing. And, those same kids may well go on to do amazing things, simply because they’re curious. The same as the ones who can code, or can speak two languages, or more.
None of the scenarios above is wrong. Nor are any of them right.
It will come as no surprise that school and I didn’t get on, even though I was quite good at remembering things and regurgitating them at will. I just didn’t want to be like everyone else.
Now, just as it was then, I like to wander – in my mind as much as in the physical world. I tend to meander, to take the route I don’t know, just to find out where it goes. It’s caused me to be late to work, occasionally to find my car in a cul-de-sac, to be reading about non-lethal weapons when I’m supposed to be creating a creative idea for a best-selling car brand. But it’s always been useful. I’ve learned something.
And, by dint of trying something out, I’ve discovered things I might have missed if I hadn’t.
When I worked, for a very brief time, at a financial institution in the City of London, I spent a lot of my free time just walking about. Often this was to avoid the crowds of tourists, and because I was curious to know the intricate pathways that were rarely crowded a little better. Doing this led me past the spot where the world’s first postmarks were struck, among other things.
Now you can find me roaming around art galleries, chatting to the tech industry and asking questions (some of which are undoubtedly stupid, but so what!), buying electronic kits and building stuff, collecting memories, reading non-fiction, going to the theatre, reading poetry… I’m wandering.
I still can’t code. I barely get by with my terrible French when across the Channel. But, I recently used some of the knowledge I gained about London to good use for a client brief. I connected the dots I’d been collecting in my brain – something that brings me back to Dave Birss again (he’s writing a book on the subject, out soon) and this piece, What is Innovation? published on the Fast Company website, which talks about the same thing.
I’m doing what I can to wrestle back my responsibilities as a human being – responsibilities to myself as well as to others – by choosing to ignore the flashing light and the big button (which more often than not depicts a thumbs up symbol*). I’m staying curious, foolish as that may be, because I’m certain that those dots I’m collecting will be useful one day. Curiosity has also taught me how to connect them while not being afraid to try new combinations.
*Since writing this, the thumbs up symbol has been re-imagined as a button. The analogy remains true.