Humanity has always designed new tools to advance. Fire and stone transitioned our ancestors from a nomadic lifestyle to an agrarian one. New technologies signals the rise and fall of monolithic civilisations, alter the distribution of power and inspire societal changes. More recently, the mid-20th century moved us into the digital age. Devices that sit in our pockets are forcing our generation to reexamine what it means to live. Getting it right means solving the world’s biggest issues — clean water, improved sanitation in developing nations, climate change solutions. Getting it wrong means the rise of hate speech, misinformation, militarism and mass genocides.
For many of us, our digital lives are dictated by large companies and platforms who utilise shock value to retain our attention. Entire days spent in digital bubbles designed to catalyse emotional reactions. And in that process, we’re surrendering fundamental human liberties: privacy, security, and in different parts of the world, democracy. All for less than the price of a used car. Diets of constant communication, consumption and distraction puts us in autopilot; passenger’s in our day-to-day existence. Our devices become automobiles for the mind.
But technology needn’t be dystopian. There’s a way to transform our devices back into useful creative tools that pivot the human race forward. Tools that sit there, waiting patiently for the moment when we have purpose of it. Not the other way around. Somethings I feel Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder, understood. He commonly spoke of technology alone being insufficient. Technology married with the liberal arts and humanities yield the results that make our hearts sing. We’re better served when technology acts as a bicycle for the mind.
What a computer is to me, is it's the most remarkable tool we've ever come up with. It's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds. — Steve Jobs
Take a journey with me through London travelling from point A, the London Eye, to point B, the Imperial War Museum. Walking the journey takes roughly 21 minutes. But change our mode of locomotion to a bicycle and the journey takes roughly 8 minutes. Approximately a 62% increase in efficiency. Computers do a similar thing for our minds and creativity. Tasks which once took humans hours, computers do with blazing precision and speed. That efficiency can be leveraged each day to compound improvements in our everyday lives.
In “Computer as Paint Brush” Mitchel Resnick reimagined the way we might use our devices. Instead of portable televisions to consume entertainment, thinking of them as an artist’s paint brush opens new possibilities. Restoring them back into powerful bicycles for the mind as originally envisaged. Facilitating exploration by placing us back into creative spaces. Giving us opportunities to be more than hamsters on a wheel.
Powerful devices in our pocket and an “app for that” create the opportunity for positive societal change. Synthesising learning, creating code, video editing, drawing new illustrations… it’s energising. We can create works and monuments our nomadic ancestors couldn’t begin to dream of. Changing our world for the better is creation, not consumption.