SPEED AND DISTRACTION
While Concrete Thinking is the ability to think literally in an operational sense, Abstract Thinking is the ability to view something abstractly in many different ways and to “think outside the box” as they say.
Pragmatic people will tend to be Concrete Thinkers, whereas dreamers Abstract Thinkers.
Concrete thinkers will think linearly, while Abstract Thinkers broadly and typically enjoy analogies, joining the dots and identifying commonalities between things. Designers are typically Abstract Thinkers, and by joining the dots and seeing patterns that linear thinkers can’t, they intuitively identify emerging trends and find solutions.
Concrete thinkers enjoy completing a task and fine tuning the details whereas Abstract Thinkers enjoy exploring the broader concept of a task and collect more information to asses.
It seems to me that technology often tends to promote faster behavior and consequently also a more essential form of thinking that is more Linear. Besides, getting most of our information online also shows that our sensory channels of information are also becoming reduced and in effect more linear.
What of the study by Winterstein und Jungwirth and their so-called Menschenzeichentest (Man Drawing Test), which measured the impact of children’s exposure to screen media?
Also, by adopting the most efficient process to achieve a result it doesn’t allow much time for reflection, so its easier to default to a more linear thinking approach. I think that with a cultural tendency towards speed we risk not only having less time to think broadly, but may lose some of our critical and creative muscle.
Consider the difference between books and movies that pull you at hair raising speed through the narrative, without time to breath and reflect. Or video games where the goal is to finish as quickly as possible, or social media that is filled with abbreviated terms and simplified communications with likes, pokes, LOL and LMFAO.
Parallel to George Orwell’s logic that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”, I can’t help wondering how technological culture can corrupt expression/creativity/design, just as low quality expression/creativity/design can corrupt culture.
While King Thamus claimed that the use of writing (then a new technology) would create very much knowledge and information, but less memory and less wisdom. Today we sometimes refer to this as “book smart”.
Specifically Socrates said this about writing:
“The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.” – Plato
* Of course Socrates and Plato also lived in a time of Sophists, when so many were trying to outtalk the other with theories, and rhetoric was common.
“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” – T.S. Eliot
Are we living in a modern technological world more interested in knowledge than wisdom; where “everybody knows, but nobody really cares”? And following T.S. Eliot’s remark further, how will increasing information affect our knowledge? Will more information distract and confuse us, so as to become less knowledgable?
Will the attention span of future generations be too short to watch feature length movies, the same that current generations are unable to read books?
Will our increasing reliance on technology affect our broader complex critical and creative thinking abilities, processes that require time and contemplation? Will it improve our technical abilities, while reducing our creative skills? Restricting our thought process further instead of nurturing and liberating it?
In the design world, will our quest for speed, our thirst for speed sketching and digital design tournaments…or for bigger and more varied seasonal design collections give us less time to think and ultimately cause us to produce lower quality design? Should design tournaments be called styling tournaments and are they also a reflection of a profession and culture increasingly focused on creating eye candy and entertainment with its glossy renderings and dramatic on form?
Speed in modern culture equates to results, revenue and success, but does its help us develop the most effective solutions? Will progress and innovation be increasingly defined more broadly, to include similar expressions, or variables of the same?
Is technology encouraging more Concrete Thinking as opposed to Abstract Thinking and is the linear nature of Concrete Thinking reducing our ability to be creative?
Can a culture of speed encourage deep reflection and profound creativity? To think deeply about a design and develop the best farthest reaching solutions.
French Philosopher Jacques Ellul said in his critique of technology, that society is becoming less contemplative, more reactionary and less reflective; replacing reflection with reflex.
Because every change in our lives including adopting a new technology adds/brings something new to our life, but also takes something away.
So what are we losing?
Are we at risk of losing our creative nature by gaining speed and over using technology?
As they say the proof is in the pudding; so has the quality of any design category improved or worsened over the last 20 years…or has it stayed the same and if so, why hasn’t it improved?
How many new designs at retail today look significantly different and how many are very similar to others from the past? And what has changed between the new and the old; surface, or substance?