Is internet an enemy of your creativity?

The Atlantic debate about the internet and creativity slanted toward negativity as if “the Internet is bad for your creativity” was a foregone conclusion of (ironically) an internet debate, and the opinions were selected to illustrate the moderator’s hypothesis. Somebody sketches less because he spends more time online. The other starts research but gets bogged down in site-jumping instead of writing. I also procrastinate, but I realized that when I surf instead of writing, it means that I’m too tired to be productive.

I’ve grown up as a person in parallel with the Internet. In 1994 I went for a summer student project from former Soviet Union republic, Belarus, to Poland where I was shown the Internet. It was as sparsely populated as the Antarctic. We were using a database of biomedical articles, MedLine (still going). The ability to get papers abstracts without a long trip to the central library and leafing through individual paper cards seemed magical.

Then I went to do a PhD in the UK and plunged into the world of forums and started a LiveJournal. It’s not that I didn’t write before in a personal paper journal, but it was for my eyes only. I looked at my ten years old blog entries recently and was amazed at rubbishness of it. Short sentences, no story development, a lot of jumping around. If I didn’t have access to online tools and audience and didn’t get encouraged by my readers, I wouldn’t have been a writer today.

Somehow, talk about the Internet is inevitably a discussion about consumer sites such as Facebook that suck your time and leave you with hungover at best and outrage at worst. But the Internet is full of possibilities to express your creativity and convert your cognitive surplus into something useful to other people, from Wikipedia and its sister sites Wikimedia Commons (for files upload and cleanup), Wikibooks — for publishing a textbook, Wikiguide — travel guide, etc.

There’s also Zooniverse that allows lay persons to participate in scientific projects, freelance sites such as PeoplePerHour where you can use your creativity to earn money, etc., etc. You just need to step out your personal space (Pinterest, Hulu) and the digital village you construct around yourself — Facebook, Twitter — and use your time and cognitive surplus for the greater good.

I wrote this post using Google Docs, and I’ll proofread it with Grammarly — tools impossible without the Internet. I have dyspraxia and shudder thinking about writing drafts but especially the final essay by hand. Before the Internet, sending a “letter to editor” would have taken weeks — if ever — to get a negative response (if any) from a paper publication but now I can swiftly publish this essay.

In the end, the Internet is not a bane of creativity just as printed books, radio and TV were proved not to be. On the contrary, the Internet gives an outlet to your inner creative person whoever she is, connecting you to ideas and like-minded people and providing tools for expressing yourself. What we lost in concentration we gained a hundred fold in access to other points of view and those who are interested in your intellectual product. The Internet is a tool and whether a stone ax is used to crack some nuts for nourishment or to hit another caveman is in the mind of the ax holder.