I recently watched a home video on social media taken by a tourist more than 23 years ago as they walked around City Centre Deira in Dubai. Hundreds of nostalgic users commented on the clip. Many pointed out that no one was holding a smartphone, and how our social connections were better then.
Beyond social connections, our dependence on technology has led to many discussions that claim our creativity is being limited by our reliance on them.
But this isn’t a new argument. When I was a child, video games were viewed negatively and blamed for limiting our imagination, our social skills, and as a result, my parents limited our play time.
Others argue that technology such as artificial intelligence is enhancing creativity. Some point to research on the negative impact of mindless scrolling on smartphones, smart devices and consumption of information, saying it restricts the time to daydream, to let minds freely wander and produce creative ideas.
Albert Einstein appreciated the power of a wandering mind. He spent hours on his sailboat allowing his mind to drift. Some attributed daydreaming as a contributing element to Einstein's and Isaac Newton’s accomplishments.
Countries like the US are facing a creativity crisis, according to a study by William & Mary’s Kyung-Hee Kim. And while the country's results on IQ tests have been on the rise, its scores on the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking have been declining since 1990, with creativity levels dropping across all age groups, but the decrease is most significant among young students.
Still, it’s not fair to say that technology has not contributed to creativity. Technology has been a critical enabler.
Today, entrepreneurs don’t necessarily need an office to start a business and can instantly reach people across the world.
For artists, social media serves as an important medium for them to show their work. Such channels are also an important platform for budding designers.
Many content creators have built lucrative careers, and media stars were born with the help of YouTube.
Social media channels have also been conduits for e-commerce and helped enhance the freelance economy.
While technology is distracting, it has helped promote entrepreneurs, the work of creative and aspiring individuals, and provided avenues for growth, networking and diversifying income streams.
Technology will only continue to advance, and amid the detractors and criticism the answer as always comes down to moderation and balance.
A balanced environment that nurtures creativity and mindful use of technology is the answer.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi.