What do the pyramids, the MineCraft Earth, and my short stories all have in common? Hopefully they’re not all insane projects, though piling virtual block on top of virtual block inside a video game is only slightly weirder than piling actually physical blocks into a tall, pointy shape. They’re all made by people, of course. They’re all attempts by people to shape the world around them – some of them with more of a point than others, of course (whether my short stories have a point, I’ll leave to the reader to judge). But it illustrates a natural human drive that people have displayed throughout history, one mark of what it means to be humans. We feel like we have to create. We have to produce something, even if it’s just stacking enough Oreos on top of each other until the tower is high enough to get into the Guinness World Book of Records.
This is what draws me, and probably many other writers, to writing. Because you can create to the extent your creative mind will let you. You can design worlds totally different than this one, and you can produce door-stopper novels that strongly indicate you’ve done something in your life. But you don’t realize how strong this drive is until you really think about it. How many hours of free labour have been poured in Wikipedia, do you think? Or the sprawling world of TVtropes? Or even the internet itself – a whole new frontier for virtual creation?
I had a history prof who once built his own Messerschmitt airplane out of scrap metal in his backyard, which is a highly cool project, but also somewhat useless when you think about it. In the first place, Messerschmitts have already been invented, and are way out of date, and in the second place, one built out of scrap metal won’t even fly (even though he did actually mix up jet fuel for it at one point). So why on earth would anyone put in the hours and hours of manpower to piece one together by hand? One reason is, probably, just to prove he could do it. Another, to have a Messerschmitt in his backyard. And another, to show the limits of human ability are not as narrow as we sometimes think – we can piece together amazing stuff if we try. (And if you don’t believe I’ve had a prof who actually did this, check out the article here).
In our industrialized world, we have lost some of the creativity that comes with handcrafting. The majority of us don’t have to produce our own fashions, and regularly churn out artisanal bread. But the benefit of our modern world is that our technology frees us up to pursue creative ideas that actually jive with our interests. Throughout history, people such as Marx have lamented the effect of industry on human ambition, but people have also started movements that react against it. I love hearing about the Arts and Crafts movement in England, because some of their handcrafted designs are so neat (like this table, and this ‘Dragon’s blood’ red lacquered dresser). And today, this handcrafted movement has been strengthened by the internet – check out Etsy, and the hundreds and hundreds of sewing blogs. The act of creation is not dead yet. And more than that, people now have new ways of showing off their creations to one another.
Unfortunately, the modern world comes with its own distractions, which is why I waste far too much time on the internet and TV, when I could be writing. So this post is not only a celebrating of the amazing reach of human creativity, it is a call to action. Our society has probably the greatest amount of leisure time of any society ever. What are you doing with that time? How many of us are ignoring our drive to create something?
Go out and do something cool. Don’t worry about exactly how it will benefit the modern world – after all, we all agree the pyramids are great, even though we don’t use them for anything. I mean, don’t worry about it too much, though try to pursue something that’s a little less of a waste of time than watching TV 24 hours a day. The thing with creating (especially creating art) is that you can’t always foresee how it will impact the world, but it could be in ways you never imagined. So take a movement and listen to that drive to create.