Engagement, Connectivity and Creativity

This is a slightly edited version of an email that I sent to a list of group psychotherapists that I participate in. It pulls together some ideas from Story.lab and my thoughts about writing my blog and writing for The Patch.

Here in the United States, it is Thanksgiving Day. I will spend most of this day with my extended family away from technology. There are over 10,000 unread emails, including a fair amount from this list, sitting in my inbox. There are websites I should visit and articles I should write.

Yet I want to take a few moments to reflect on the comments on the mailing list. I have an odd relationship with media. As a technologist, I am immersed in it. Yet at the same time, I have a strong dislike of what I consider 'bad' media.

To me, technology and media are not bad in and of themselves. They are neutral. They can be used for good, or they can be used for bad. As I try to determine what makes for the good or bad use of technology or media, I come back to three key ideas. Engagement, connectivity, and creativity. Technology and media that encourages engagement, connectivity and creativity are, in my mind, technology and media that is being used for good. Technology and media that discourages engagement, connectivity and creativity are, for the most part, being used badly.

My older two daughters grew up watching limited television. Typically, we limited it to arts and education shows. They are better versed in opera than in boy bands. For computer games, they were typically limited to educational games and I always told them they were free to play any game that they could write.

Years later, they have commented about how this created difficulties in them adjusting to the society around them and I worry that in some ways I was too restrictive. It is useful to have at least some exposure to popular culture to be able to relate and connect with our peers that are more steeped in popular culture. In addition, it seems like there is something artificial in a line between high brow culture and low brow culture. There are good boy bands and there are bad operas.

As an aside, as I talk about technology and media, I think of two addition thoughts. First is Marshall McLuhan and "The Medium is the Message". Certain media encourages passivity. Certain media encourages creativity and engagement. This leads into the second thought. My middle daughter is now a senior in college majoring in art. She did drop the double major in psychology, but it remains a strong interest of hers. As a creative fine artist, her favorite media are oils and clay. Her favorite technology is the paintbrush and the potter's wheel.

So, I've altered my parenting style with my youngest daughter. When she comes home, she plops down in front of the television. She needs time to unwind. We all need that from time to time. I let her chose what she wants to watch. However, she knows that my wife or I are likely to engage her in discussion about what she watches. There are a few evening television shows that she likes and is permitted to watch, Glee and Modern Family. They often lead to long discussions about the moral issues as well as the creativity involved.

At the beginning of this week, I took a new freelance position as the Around Town columnist for a hyperlocal online news site. I am very aware of the content I am being paid to create and I constantly ask myself, is this good content? Am I being creative? Will people be better people by reading what I write. As I talk about media and technology the same applies to my coverage of local events. Am I promoting engagement, connectivity and creativity? I hope so.

So, whether you are concerned about schools, media, technology or whatever, I come back to engagement, connectivity and creativity. I hope we call all learn a more of this.