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Creatively Squander


"The secret of fast progress is inefficiency, fast and furious and numerous failures." - Kevin Kelly

Kelly further writes:

The network economy is destined to be a fount of routine productivity. Technical experience can be shared quickly, increasing efficiencies in automation. The routine productivity of machines, however, is not what humans want. Instead, what the network economy demands from us is something that looks suspiciously like waste.

Wasting time and inefficiencies are the way to discovery. When Condé Nast's editorial director Alexander Liberman was challenged on his inefficiencies in producing world-class magazines such The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Architectural Digest, he said it best: "I believe in waste. Waste is very important in creativity." Science fiction ace William Gibson declared the web to be the world's largest waste of time. But this inefficiency was, Gibson further noted, its main attraction and blessing, too. It was the source of art, new models, new ideas, subcultures, and a lot more. In a network economy, innovations must first be seeded into the inefficiencies of gift economy to later sprout in efficiencies of the commerce.

Before the World Wide Web there was Dialog. Dialog was pretty futuristic. In the 1970s and '80s it was the closest thing to an electronic library there was, containing the world's scientific, scholarly, and journalistic texts. The only problem was its price, $1 per minute. You could spend a lot of money looking things up. At those prices only serious questions were asked. There was no fooling around, no making frivolous queries-like looking up your name. Waste was discouraged. Since searching was sold as a scarcity, there was little way to master the medium, or to create anything novel.

It takes 56 hours of wasting time on the web-clicking aimlessly through dumb web sites, trying stuff, and making tons of mistakes and silly requests-before you master its search process. The web encourages inefficiency. It is all about creating opportunities and ignoring problems. Therefore it has hatched more originality in a few weeks than the efficiency-oriented Dialog system has in its lifetime, that is, if Dialog has ever hatched anything novel at all.

The Web is being run by 20-year-olds because they can afford to waste the 56 hours it takes to become proficient explorers. While 45-year-old boomers can't take a vacation without thinking how they'll justify the trip as being productive in some sense, the young can follow hunches and create seemingly mindless novelties on the web without worrying about whether they are being efficient. Out of these inefficient tinkerings will come the future.

A quick note: I mention in my previous post that the reading of news sites is a huge waste of time because it can't effect any positive change in my life. The news and those who make it are out of my reach. What Kevin Kelly says here is that by being inefficient, I'm actually learning and exploring. Big difference. One-year-olds are incredibly fast crawlers. By tinkering with this 'walking' phenomon and wasting time going nowhere and getting hurt and frustrated by trying to move around on two legs, they learn to use a more efficient mechanism for travel.

I'll repeat again what Kelly said:

"The secret of fast progress is inefficiency, fast and furious and numerous failures."

Crawling was cool and mobile - no doubt about it. But there's a better way. We can't be afraid of the new and the inefficient, nor can we fear the inevitable failures that spring from our initial time with them. Just because we're afraid that we wouldn't be good at it shouldn't preclude us from the attempt.


by Brett Rogers, 9/4/2006 9:13:52 AM


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