The death of imagination…

Social media is addictive. Computer games are addictive. Streaming video is addictive. Writers can be addicted to these technologies as well as readers. Or should I say ex-writers and ex-readers? As a consequence, the number of readers dwindles, and writers will stop writing books.
The ultimate casualty in this depressing scenario is human imagination. When someone reads a book, s/he turns words into real scenes, real people’s dialogue, and real action, especially while reading fiction. Writing is the reverse process: the author’s imagination turns those elements into words. Imagination is the common denominator, and losing it makes all of us less human.
Social media doesn’t take hardly any imagination, as a famous Twitter addict has shown, so I won’t dwell on that. Gaming and streaming media need even less, as the players and viewers participate passively in something audiovisual a company’s multiple workers have toiled to create, usually each contributing a piece. That process is formulaic and more geared to encourage the addicted to buy more of the same type of product. The storytelling, if it happens to exist at all, needs no imagination on the part of the viewer, only their attention.
As imagination dies, all those wonderful gizmos so many are addicted to, especially young people, will no longer improve, and new ones won’t be created either. Creation needs imagination. If you think that an iPhone or Space-X rocket is created without imagination, you don’t understand science and technology. You’re just a technological savage, an addicted user of technology and completely dependent on those who supply your daily fixes. It’s not all about imagination, of course. I can imagine a different kind of thermostat, for example, but I don’t have the engineering skills to make it. But the first step is to imagine it.
Decades ago, people read and wrote more. OK, maybe they didn’t write fiction, but they wrote letters. And they read books. People would get lost in a good book. If they were reading fiction, they’d be exercising that unique human muscle called imagination. That’s what it takes to turn words into a story in your mind. Non-fiction would allow them to imagine history unfolding, take a tour of a foreign country and learn its language, or learn something new for their work or hobbies.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the Turing test: A human interrogator C asks questions of A and B. One of A or B is a computer, the other human. If C can’t determine which one is the computer, the computer passes the test for artificial intelligence. Turing missed the key issue, though. We can give a computer intelligence, but we can’t give it imagination—only humans have imaginations…some of them, at least. The writers of Star Trek: Generations made a similar error: they give Data an “emotions chip.” I can IMAGINE giving a computer emotions—at least the simulation of them—but Data already had imagination, a gift far superior to emotions. Our imaginations in fact build on logic, reason, and emotions; anyone getting lost in a good book will agree with that. And by “go into the zone” in my writing, I’m describing when imagination, logic, reason, AND emotions create a heady stew that the words seem to just flow onto the page and the characters tell their own stories.
Will we become non-human automatons when imagination dies? Time will tell, but I hope some vestige of that essential part of our humanity remains. I can’t really answer the question, but maybe I can find out by reading a few good books!
***
Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format, including a .mobi (Kindle) version, at Smashwords and the latter’s affiliate retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo). It’s also available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it). See the review and interview at Feathered Quill.
In libris libertas!

Leave a Reply