Sustainability and computing came creatively together in the “Creativity Challenges and Opportunities in Social Computing” panel at CHI recently. The premise for the panel was that “most of the pressing and important problems of today’s world are systemic problems making collaboration supported by social computing not a luxury but a necessity”. The question then becomes one of whether social computing will enhance or hinder creativity?
Creativity prepares us for unexpected problems says Michael Resnick (head of MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten group). He talked about sowing the seeds for a more creative society:
In today’s rapidly-changing world, people must continually come up with creative solutions to unexpected problems. Success is based not only on what you know or how much we know, but on your ability to think and act creatively. We are living in the Creative Society.
Technology, he argues, has a dual role here: the proliferation of new technologies is quickening the pace of change, but it also has the potential to help people develop as creative thinkers. He gives the example of Scratch, a platform designed to specifically engage students in the process of creativity. Surprising learnings have come from this project – the complexity of the relationships between creative collaboration and social interactivity. For example, they have found that the “thread of creativity” has improved with encouragement and support to “be proud if someone remixes your project”.
Pamela Jennings discussed the role of the creative practitioner. Such a person has no barriers in combining the vocations of art and science – aesthetics, creative and critical inquiry all form part of the same framework. Projects such as the Constructed Narratives Construction Kit have as a goal the
the development of intelligent, responsive, environments that can be embedded into the fabric of everyday life as an interface between the public and private sphere, the built environment and emergent human behaviors.
She makes some observations that are useful as we try to understand what it means to be sustainable practitioners:
Nurturing collaborations across disciplines of research and practices, particularly those historically viewed as disparate from each other, is a critical process for fostering an environment for open exploration, creativity, scholarship and training. Integrating the creative practices in research is not only about adopting a production technique, but also adopting a way of thinking, questioning and processing information.
In the creative arts critical thinking is one such form of intellectual production. Critical thinking refers to a rigor in research that includes the ability to understand and problem solve, integrate multi-domain knowledge in new ways. Understanding historical and contemporary practices to support multiple perspectives enables one to articulate known and new discourses and understand their implications on society. With these skills critical thinkers are able to develop new ideas from the foundations of old, understand the political and social implications of media development, and learn
the skills to transform ideas of critical thinkers into the actions of critical makers.
Ben Shneiderman talked about the need for broader societal transformations (ppt). He says social media holds the “promise of participation with a higher level of input” (based on the reader-leader framework slide). He talked about important initiatives, the National Institutes for Social Participation and the National Institutes for Collaboration.
Why is this so important Shneiderman asks? He answers with words that should resonate with sustainability folk:
Modern problems are complex
Solutions require multiple disciplines
Laboratory studies have limited relevance
Natural sciences are not sufficient
And what are these challenges of his ambition? The UN Millennium Goals no less.