The Creative Net: From Barcelona to NYC… and why I think we need to put the phone away to better focus.

For my Startup Sprint class, with the goal of creating a service or solution for our community, I got in touch with Bibiana Ballbè because I was curious about her venture, The Creative Net.

Ballbè asked 160 creatives and artists from Catalonia to recommend other talent which in turn recommended more talent. This way, the net grew organically curated by the creatives itself. The objective is to showcase and celebrate the work of these people, ideate projects among them, and partner up with brands who are looking for their services.

What if we reproduce it in New York City?

Bibiana is a very cheerful woman and was responsive to connect. We set up a time for an Skype conversation. I was in luck because she and her team (the agency Bworld) want to export The Creative Net format to different cities around the world, including New York City.

Back to Startup Sprint class, I had a deadline to beat. I complain that the course goes by too fast (10 weeks) but actually, as the impeccable Jeremy Caplan showed us, one can solve big problems and test new ideas in just 5 days! For the sake of the deadline, I sketched a business plan but I wasn't proud of it. I knew I needed to do more research.

As part of the interviews I am realizing this year, I talked with Mark Read, cultural producer and educator, founder of The Illuminator. When I told him about the idea of The Creative Net he told me that there are "lots of informal networks that already exist" but the idea of A network didn't really take. He recalls a time when a group of artists, activists, tried to create one (with email lists and such) but people didn't understood what the advantage would be, what they would get from it, so it didn't work.

I asked Read if he is part of any net and he mentioned Beautiful Trouble and Hemispheric Institute. The first one is based on a book about artistic activism and he knows a lot of the contributors. About Hemispheric Institute he told me that it connected a lot of people, friends of his and also people he respects. The organization champions the work of different collectives and being embraced by the Hemispheric gives a kind of legitimacy.

What is the value of The Creative Net for the creatives and artists that are part of it?

To test the waters, I contacted four of the members to know what were their thoughts. Two of them told me they don't like it. Another one told me she didn't really used it but thinks that is a project done with a lot of care. The fourth one didn't use it either and she isn't really sure how The Creative Net could serve her.

Same answer that Read gave me. What is the service for the artist?

The Creative's net website is super cool and from the outside (judging by pictures and the events they put together) it looks like a great service. The reality though is that, as for today, the net seems to serve more the purpose of the company that the needs of the creatives they/we so much admire.

Ballbè and team are currently in the process of developing a business plan which I think will be a great opportunity for me to humbly collaborate with them and introduce the principles of social journalism:

Before writing an article, shooting a video, putting together an event, or creating a not for profit, we have to listen and understand the specific needs of the community we are serving or trying to engage.

The above paragraph sums up the one year master I am about to complete. It is already ingrained in my brain and the brains of the other colleagues from the MA, but we still have a lot of work to do until other journalists, and general public alike, apply it.

The homework must be done. We have a certain vision of what is needed, but unless we go out and ask more people, how can we be sure that the need we perceived is a priority? Who are we really serving?

Returning to the Startup Sprint class, I was anxious because the clock was ticking and I didn't have a clear service to offer to my community.

Then I looked around.

Around me I only see people with their phones glued to their hands (me totally included) and their gaze piercing the screen. Artists and non artists alike.

My goal is to serve socially engaged artists and art enthusiasts. I realized that, before that, what I really want to do is to remind people of what makes us people: Our humanity. Humans who choose to do and engage with things mindfully.

As Justin Rosenstein, former Google and Facebook engineer, says in this eye opening article: ‘Everyone is distracted. All of the time.’

There is this paradox with technology: It makes daunting tasks easier and can bring us closer together but at the same time, it has an hypnotic power to isolate us.

Rosenstein, Leah Pearlman, James Williams or Tristan Harris are some of the engineers who question the attention economy. They believe that rather than focusing on human needs, the internet is shaped around the demands of advertising.

Harris considers than technology is hijacking our minds. Pearlman, ex product manager at Facebook, is currently drawing comics. As James Williams argues, the attention economy privileges our impulses over our intentions, as the main goal is to grab our attention. Williams goes on to say that the attention economy undermines the human will. It sounds very Orwell 1984 like, nonetheless, think about how much time you spend scrolling down your Instagram feed on a given day and you may agree with him.

One of the steps that Jeremy Caplan had us do in order to arrive to a solution sketch for our community is the crazy 8’s. It consists on taking the strongest idea you've developed (after the note taking and ideation phases outlined on The Sprint Book) and rapidly sketch eight variations in eight minutes. Crazy refers to the pace of the exercise no the nature of the ideas. One should focus on the good ideas and use the Crazy 8s exercise to expand on these.

That is how Sfree -art happening without screens- came to be.

Sfree = Screen Free

I envision events filled with conversations and art making and experiencing. Enriched discussions without distractions. I believe that phone notifications can wait. The compulsion of checking our phones can be calmed down by putting these away for a little while.

People need attention, lets give it to them rather than to the algorithms.