The most important thing is making meaningful connections

I am away at the LEGO Idea Conference, a brilliant annual event about creativity, play and learning, in Billund, Denmark – the home of LEGO – and partly because of being away from normal everyday life, and partly because of the need to explain myself to a broad spread of other humans (educators, innovators, policymakers, and all kinds of other people), it got me thinking about what it is that I do, or could do, or what’s interesting, for me.

At the moment I most often think of my little summary of what I think is important about creativity and making things, in any medium, which is that it’s about:

→ conversations,
→ inspirations,
→ and making things happen.

(This set of three originated from the interesting task of having to write a blurb for my new book, Making Media Studies).

Then, to help these things to happen in the world, we need platforms, which I call platforms for creativity, where people have meaningful opportunities to have conversations with each other about things that they care about, can be inspired by what other people have done, and can build on these conversations and inspirations to make things happen.

By ‘making things happen’ I don’t necessarily mean on a big scale – although it might be – and I don’t necessarily mean in terms of social or political issues – although it could be.

‘Making things happen’ might involve just a small act of kindness, or an emotional connection, or the start of a collaboration.

The platforms for creativity can involve different kinds of tools, or toys, or digital systems, or events, or a library or museum, or school, or other kinds of environment.

In the digital age, where much is downloadable and free, but perhaps not so much valued, I think value now is in the meaningful connections we can make with people and things.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, in particular about meaningful ways to combine and integrate physical and digital experiences. But these latest versions of the thoughts were helped by Kevin Kelly’s blog post about ‘generatives’ – which is from 2008 but I only found it recently – where he writes:

“A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured. A generative thing can not be copied, cloned, faked, replicated, counterfeited, or reproduced. It is generated uniquely, in place, over time. In the digital arena, generative qualities add value to free copies, and therefore are something that can be sold”.

It’s explained most simply in this video, where Kelly says:

“The internet is this huge copying machine – that’s what it does. How do you create things of value, if anything can be copied indiscriminately? I think the answer is that the things that become valuable are the things that cannot be copied.”

In the most obvious sense, this is about live or unique personal experiences – being at a physical event, right now, which you are part of, rather than seeing such a thing on a screen. (It can also be about trust, authenticity, personalisation, and other things which can’t be copied).

But I think the most important thing is about making meaningful connections. This can be done online, or offline, but it’s often best if it’s a combination of the two.

It’s great that we can freely (or inexpensively) download lots of information and resources – this is genuinely really good. But because it’s more-or-less free, we don’t necessarily value it that much, and we don’t necessarily find it resonant or emotionally meaningful.

We need embodied experiences – doing things that involve more than eyes, maybe ears, and some tapping – and we need to engage in these with other people.

There’s also a perfectly good digital-only version, where the unique value comes from the personal connections you can make through conversations and inspirational exchanges, when you have found someone online who engages with your passions or fascinations.

So you could say this is about meaningful connections, where there’s really something to grasp hold of and engage with – physically, emotionally, or both – compared to frictionless content, where there’s a lot of it, and it’s easy to access, but there’s nothing really to grab hold of, or that will grab hold of you.

Now, if I’m asserting that meaningful connections are important – well, you could say, that’s obvious. But if you take it as crucially important – if you understand that meaningful connection-making is the most crucial thing that any product, service or relationship can be doing – then it becomes urgent and powerful, and can mean that you evaluate the media, events, learning experiences and tools around you in new ways.

Furthermore – and although this isn’t just about economics – we can note that the things that offer people meaningful connections are the things that people would be more willing to pay for. (I mention this because, well, we do live in a world which includes a system of money, and this can be about creators getting paid directly and properly for things that they make).

You see this clearly, say, in the variously-priced offerings on Kickstarter, where the cheapest things tend to be a download copy of a creative work, and the more expensive things are interpersonal experiences and handmade objects where supporters can have more of a relationship with the creator themselves.

Not that there’s anything wrong with free things. And free things can really help to build meaningful connections, of course, which is why, say, I have this blog and videos and open access articles. As you might guess, these things are offered in the hope that they might start some fruitful conversations, or prompt some inspirations, or lead to making things happen.

Photo by Flickr user Kate Ter Haar (see original), used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

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