What Role does Imagination play in Modern Lives?

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We have a new writer joining the blog, Meaghan Gray. This is her first article and she’s very young, so please be kind.

The Evolution of Technology and How Technology is Influencing Us

Over time, human understanding and development of technology have grown exponentially. From homo habilis and his stone tools to Steve Jobs and his iPad, technological advancements have been a key driving force behind human evolution. As a species, we are innately inclined to wonder at and attempt to improve everything around us. Our imaginations have brought us to a world where technologies previously dreamed of in Sci-Fi films are now available globally.

The radio, television, and, now, personal computers have brought information into our homes in such a way that institutions like libraries and bookstores are quickly losing patronage. A quick Google search will unveil thousands of articles from Wikipedia, news websites, and other sources in an instant. Television and film provide endless hours of easy entertainment with little to no participation from the audience.

If society is so rife with machines that think for us, why would we want to think for ourselves?

With the recent occupy Wall Street movement, some may believe that people today are making significant strides forward socially; however, only a few people are involved and they hardly have a common purpose beyond expressing their general disappointment. Most of us are not inclined to hold to our beliefs so strongly that we would protest to uphold them; perhaps that is the result of not educating ourselves enough about our own beliefs. Most people in the western world receive much of their beliefs and information from radio, television and movies, allowing little time for imagining much else.

The Growing Role of Imagination-Deficient Mediums

Visual stimulus has been an enormous factor affecting human imagination. In an online poll, 66% of voters rated sight as their most important sense,¹ clearly indicating that most people value their ability to see strange and beautiful and interesting things above everything else. The creators of big budget films and television shows truly understand our love for images, often painting rich tapestries of lighting and make-up and camera angles and famous faces and explosions. Critics and average viewers alike continuously agree that the majority of features that focus mainly on the visual wow-factor usually fall flat when it comes to character and plot.

The desire to read epic or romantic or hilarious tales is being siphoned into the film and television industries as well. The two industries’ combined revenue³ casts a large shadow over the book industry’s relatively paltry gross. Even stories already brought to life visually within comic books and graphic novels, such as The Green Lantern and Watchmen, are being shortened and modified for the screen. Despite the limitless budgets of our imaginations and the depth of stories within books, people are increasingly choosing movies and TV shows over novels.

Reading a book for the first time and imagining what the characters look like, how they act, where they are, what they are doing, is an experience unmatched. When movies and television shows cast one individual to a role, design one interpretation of the landscape, and shorten and modify key points within the plot – they permanently affect the way that the viewer will see every aspect of that story. Our imaginations are nullified by the films, thus we do not bother using them at all.

The persistent image of Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter keeps readers from properly imagining his wild hair and striking almond-shaped eyes. Adaptations take away our ability to imagine stories as we were meant to imagine them. Some may argue that some of the most profitable modern book franchises of today would not exist without their film counterparts. To them I say that no modern film franchise today could exist without books.

The high number of book re-interpretations by film and television creators shows that they are fast running out of fresh ideas. The audience has become so jaded and sick of the same-old plots that the industries have been forced to drastically change their formula and go back to books. Films and television shows now often pay overly aggressive homage to older versions of themselves or provide a constant stream of Family Guy-esque shows. The romantic and fantastic seem to have been lost.

Where is the Quality Control?

Our endless supply of solutions to problems (apps, sites, quick fixes) have perhaps taken much of the mystery from our lives. With Facebook telling you how your friends are, Google answering every query, and Twitter alerting you of the thoughts of everyone in the world – curiosity is usually cured instantly. Why imagine when you can mindlessly tweet and follow?

As a culture, we have virtually no boundaries. With no filter between thinking and posting, people across the world tweet their every thought. This behaviour has led to a society in which people generally do not think before they speak, nor do they listen to what others say. A great example of this behaviour can be found on any of The Real Housewives programs. The women on these shows screech and scream at each other about respect and class constantly. Every sentence each woman yells contradicts her last. Despite the absurdity of the content, these shows are hugely popular, with eleven versions internationally. While these “reality” TV shows may not be an accurate representation of the entire world’s population now, they are the shows that are shaping the minds of our youth. This behaviour allows no room for trying to understand what we do not understand and to imagine what we do not know.

The lack of filtered content in our society has affected our imaginations in other ways. While the number of patents and products created each year is massive, the quality is hugely lacking. The Internet and excessive lending allow people to have an idea and execute it simply without much forethought. Like the film and television industries, others are running out of ideas and creating absurd and unnecessary reimaginations of projects instead of focusing on new content.

Imagination is being kicked out, but will it turn out to be irreplaceable

We are replacing the uniquely human tool that is our imagination with another uniquely human tool, technology. We are constantly able to create new versions of things, but nothing seems to be genuinely new. Perhaps this is because outstanding things are truly rare, but we feel entitled to a new, exciting, and funny TV show, movie, or video game every day. The world is not populated by seven billion geniuses. It is rare to have a great film, just as it is rare to have a great book; there was not a classically brilliant novel released every month for the past several hundred years.

True beauty is something to be wondered at. It is something that we should spend our lives imagining and we should be bowled over the first time we see it. Instead, we have hundreds of books, films, songs, paintings, sculptures, and so on that are beyond fantastic. The best work of the past centuries is easily accessible. We have become accustomed to the wonderous; thus, we expect it. However, we gloss over the amount of time and effort required to create such masterpieces. We gloss over the imagination and effort needed to create masterpieces.

The want for instant gratification and the death of imagination at the hands of technology will eventually kill every entertainment industry because we cannot produce at the rate that we desire. We definitely can’t produce if we lose our imaginations. We must re-learn how to use our imaginations to see old stories in new ways, to draw inspiration from the past, and to create a brand new world that is the product of our imaginations and not of our tweets and status updates.

What do you think?

Is technology and a focus on instant gratification eroding away our imaginations?

Footnotes:

1. P. Balaram, Current Science 8:1, “Smell, Science and the Press” 5.

2. The Numbers “http://www.the-numbers.com/market/”.

3. Rikard Bandebo, American Business “http://american-business.org/2758-television-broadcasting-industry.html”.

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