Creativity as survival: crowdsourcing unexpected ways to use technology

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Adriana de Souza e Silva, professor of communications at NC State.

People and communities are constantly finding new uses for existing technologies – things the designers of the technology never intended, and perhaps never even considered. To better understand this creative process, I’m part of a team of researchers collecting examples of how people are using networked mobile technologies to accomplish unexpected things – from improving local transportation in low-income communities returned to sharing public health information.

To identify examples of these innovative efforts, we are asking for the public’s help. We created a website called Mobile Networked Creativity Repository to collect examples from around the world.

Here’s why we do this.

Creativity is a hot topic. A growing number of trade publications aim to teach people “how to be more creative”. Some companies set aside “innovation time,” encouraging employees to explore new ideas that could ultimately benefit their employers. However, these efforts all focus on creativity in the context of contributing to business results.

“Creativity” then becomes a way to inspire people to work harder, beat the competition, and succeed in the workplace. This perspective presents creativity as something achieved through intense individual concentration and contemplation – an activity reserved for those who have the time, money and resources to be creative.

However, we must not forget that creativity also occurs in difficult situations, where there is a lack of time, money and resources. For example, when slum dwellers in favelas or forced migrants in makeshift housing reuse technology to improve their living conditions, they do not just appropriate the technology: they collectively recreate their relationship to technology. and reinvent themselves – empowering themselves, creating community, or accessing services they otherwise would not have. This process not only changes the way people and communities use technology, but also the way they perceive themselves and interact with the world.

We understand creativity as a process that relies on networked resources and mobility in an environment that connects people and technologies. For example, in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where footpaths are unpaved and wheelchair access is limited, Safwan Harb looked to his environment to create an e-bike made from spare parts. detached. In doing so, he was not just inventing a wheelchair bicycle, he was recreating himself as a person with reduced mobility. Understanding creativity from a survival perspective means removing the focus from the individual as an innovator (as well as the profit-driven goal) and instead highlighting the ongoing network relationships between people, technologies and spaces. This creative process is not just about creating new things. Rather, it is about the mobility and networking of resources that can improve lives and facilitate survival strategies.

Together with collaborators Mai Nou Xiong-Gum of Furman University and NC State graduate student Kelsey Dufresne, we created the Mobile Networked Creativity Repository to capture these instances of creation and the myriad elements that drive them. Our goal is to reframe traditional ideas of creativity by creating a participatory repository of creative practices that emerge from a process of survival.

Once content is published to the Mobile Creativity Repository, it can be viewed, read, and shared by anyone with Internet access through a computer or mobile device. Additionally, since the repository is built on PubPub’s collaborative web platform, it offers support for sharing, integrating and embedding all kinds of digital content, especially multimodal media.

We have developed the format of the repository to achieve four main objectives:
(1) explain mobile network creativity to a wide audience;
(2) share existing research and documents on this topic;
(3) ask the public to contribute to the collection; and
(4) display the crowdsourcing examples we receive from the public.

When creating the repository, we were particularly interested in collecting publicly identified instances of mobile-networked creativity to support the development and accessibility of a large collection of examples from around the world. Currently, the contribution format encourages participants and potential contributors to describe and share their examples of mobile network creativity via a linked Google form from the website.

On the form, individuals are asked to describe their example of creativity in mobile networking and to explain its relevance. We are particularly concerned about accessibility and giving everyone the opportunity to contribute. Therefore, participants have the option of uploading an audio file instead of writing a text. In addition, participants have the option of uploading multimedia files, such as photos and videos, to better describe their contribution. Finally, participants can add the geographical location of their contribution and the duration of the event or example, if relevant.

After reviewing the submitted entries, our team uploads the most representative ones to the repository. We plan to rotate the various submissions on the main page of the repository, while giving the public access to the submissions we receive through the Examples page of the repository. The preservation and display of publicly documented and accessible documents is in line with UNESCO recommendations for open science to promote more equitable and collaborative knowledge sharing.

Keeping in mind that most mobile-networked creativity processes occur outside of Northern and English-speaking contexts, we are in the process of translating the repository into different languages. We already have a Portuguese version online and plan to make more languages ​​available as soon as possible. In doing so, we hope to be able to not only collect examples from around the world, but also reach audiences outside of traditional Global North contexts. The ultimate goal of the project is to include a diversity of communities in conceptualizing creativity outside of traditional capitalist contexts, as well as making them aware that non-traditional ways of using and appropriating technology are also creative and should be valued as such.

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