Mary Lou Maher of NSF's "Creativity and Cognition" division has just opened her talk on "Enhancing Creativity and Implicaions for Design Cognition" with an essential and elegant insight. She's showing slides of preverbal infants playing with laptops and iPhones. As she notes, for these toddlers, these complex digital machines are "toys," no different from other toys. They play, they respond, they learn, they play more. When something doesn't work, they hand the toy (ie iPhone) to and adult, "Huh, huh," and the adult shows them how it works, and then the process continues.
I would add there is also constant approval that reinforces this form of play. The adult says proudly to friends, "Little Junior is brilliant--he is better at the iPhone than I am. Kids today!"
Now we have moved from the children to Ruzena Bajcsy and Klara Nahrstedt's tele-immersive dance tha they created and showcased last year at HASTAC. Ruzena, of course, helped create the CISE division at NSF and was one of the founders of HASTAC. So I love this connection from the infant learning new technologies and HASTAC's nascent beginning. A nice confluence!
Mary Lou Maher's next move is to talk about Kinetic Typography and the expressiveness of texting when the text is kinetic. This is marvelous. So, so HASTAC----the language of conductors and the "Decoding Human Conducting Gesture" project at Carnegie Mellon is being discussed as being like improv, interactive, and what we can learn about creativity from this process.
And she is talking now about the "Curious Non-Player Characters in Online Games" where the game algorithm rewards curiosity rather than known narrative forms. Fascinating! And she is one of the creators of this very interesting project designed to reward inquisitive learning. "Every sheep learns something different" in this game. To teach a sheep to learn differently, now there is a challenge! (NB: This game was not created by a cattle rancher!)
The conversation next turns to the different ways that we design, how we involve the body in the design, how multiple persons collaborate, and how this all works, playing the parts like a chess game. Children are being asked to design rooms, floor plans, arrange furniture in rooms, and they have a click-and-drag 3-D screen, with a library of choices that they can use, and in the other they use physical blocks that they move around, with each block projecting a 3-D model (I'm not sure I understand this set up yet). But the main issue is interface design, tactility, and how this works as problem-solving behavior. One interesting result from this experiment is there is much shorter time with the tangible than with the graphical interface. And one thing I find fascinating is that, with the graphical interface, kids went immediately to the library whereas with the graphical there was more talk, more experiment, more observation before an actual piece was moved or chosen.
Hmmmmm. This is something I'll have to incorporate into "This Is Your Brain on the Internet," working with my HCI students to think about graphical and tactile interfaces and problem solving, interaction, and creativity. I'm very intrigued.
One conclusion that is being reached now is the Mouse---how one object has many functions. What does that mean for creativity? TUI (Tangible User Interfaces) encourage complexity, exploratory actions, and other design behaviors. When we program Smart Mouses, do we limit this creativity? How does interface influence design? Very, very interesting!
Big Conclusion: Change the tool, change the thinking.
We all need to take that in as we think about how creatively to rethink our worlds.