Everything is a ReMix

Ask most people if they think they are creative, and they will likely drop their eyes, if not their heads, and answer – often very quickly – “No.” Somewhere along the line, we have decided – or probably were taught – that creativity requires some measure of genius, the ability to see something no one has ever seen, to do something completely novel, to develop an original idea or invention. Framed that way, it’s highly understandable that most of us feel like we don’t measure up.

But what if creativity is far less the solitary pursuit of the inspired genius and more an attentive regard for the ideas and contributions of others with an eye to adapt them to new circumstances? Or, to put it more simply, what if creativity is more about building on and playing with the ideas of others rather than creating something entirely new?

This isn’t a new idea for readers of this blog. In a previous post I’ve proposed that there is no such thing as an original idea because creativity is highly collaborative – stemming from our relationships with others – and also highly combinatorial – putting things together far more than creating something new.

All of which brings me to Kirby Ferguson. Ferguson is a digital filmmaker, and one of his interests is demonstrating the salutary way in which all artistic endeavors – even those hailed as most original and groundbreaking – are dependent on what came before. Toward this end, he is working on a series of short films exploring the concept that remixing and re-using and adapting things actually is innovation.

In this film, Ferguson takes the iPhone as a test-case. In so many ways, the iPhone introduced something that seemed completely novel – it employed a variable multi-touch screen and did away with the keyboard; it combined an mp3-player with a phone and a powerful hand-held computer. Yet, as Ferguson describes, when Apple was faced with seemly insurmountable design challenges to achieve their dream, rather than invent something entirely new they went back to older technologies and discovered ways to apply them in novel ways.

One of the things I love about this approach to creativity is that it makes it more accessible to us, something within our reach. Can I be original or novel? I’m not so sure. But can I take the ideas and discoveries of others and apply them to my context, building and adapting them to suit new situations and uses? That, I think, I can manage, especially when doing it with others.

Everything is a Remix Case Study: The iPhone from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Notes: 1) If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to click here to watch the video.
2) Thanks to Open Culture for introducing me to this work.