Sunday, October 01, 2006

Creators, Users and the Downright Helpless

The baby is born helpless. It learns to use its parents to get what it wants.

The child learns to use its intellect and external devices in addition to its relationships with other people to get what it wants. But some of them stay back at the level of manipulating relationships almost exclusively to get other people to provide what they want.

Advanced tool users become creators. Not all advanced tool users make that transition. And not all creators will necessarily have advanced tool skills, but the most successful probably will.

Don't confuse imagination with creativity. A creation must actually exist, whereas an imaginitive person can think up endless elaborate notions that never find concrete expression.

Browsing on the Firefox website I was struck by the creativity of the software developers who work to bring forth reams of code we can take for granted.

The computer whiz I know best is a transitional creator. He's come up with some cool stuff, like the Javascript that makes snow fall on the Wolfeboro Cross-Country website whenever snow is falling in our area, but so far has not generated any tectonic change in the computer world. And he and I are both merely advanced tool users in the world of bike creation.

My bike guru in Florida sets the standard for creativity in that world. The company she co-owns down there, Victory Bicycles, creates replica Ordinary bikes, the old boneshaking high-wheelers, from scratch. Apparently, building modern steel frames was too much like paint-by-numbers for her. But she started as a baby, then a student, then a novice and intermediate tool user. Sure, she had an advantage growing up with her father's machine shop attached to the house, but she could have ignored that and followed another path. But she is just one among many, as a visit to The Bicycle Forest will show.

One might argue that artistic creativity is the easiest form. It does not need to fit into any functional, structured environment. It can exist for its own sake. Esoteric bicycles stand more as art. So does falling snow animated on a website. But each of those creations draws from a number of practical principles and meshes actively with the practical world.

Even the most helpless adult dependent on human relationships learns to use a few things, like the car or the cell phone. But more than once the rental manager at a ski touring center where I work would ask rhetorically, "Who dresses these people every morning? How did they manage to get here on their own?"

Experts at "people skills" can use those skills to wriggle through life's streets and alleys without ever creating anything or learning in detail how any device they use actually works. I'll bet most of them earn more money than I do, because every adult has a little bit of money and if you can talk a whole lot of them into parting with even a small fraction of it you can accumulate a tidy pile without really doing anything except socializing.

Someone needs to produce something somewhere up the line. But whatever is produced needs to make its way through the schmoozing process to gain a sizable following.

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