Motivation: Why Digital Creativity

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For the "true" Digital Native, information has become entirely malleable. For Generation X, the Baby Boomers, and the countless other generations that preceded this era of unprecedented connectivity, facts were simply facts. Albums were albums. Advertisements were advertisements. Art was art. Long before Wikipedia, encyclopedias were concrete, unchanging entities. Thanks to social software and a breakdown of traditional cyber barriers, user-generated content has become the norm for much of cyberspace. Where once information was stuck and unchanging, the new Internet and the Web2.0 evolution have provided an infrastructure for end-users to tag, add, edit, share, blog, create, and mash. According to a study by Pew Internet, more than half of all teens have created content on the Internet (not to mention one-third of adult Internet users as well). [1]

Blogs, chat rooms, newsgroups, social networks, homepages, and instant messaging have enabled users around the world to participate in digital content creation in their own cyber-cultures. What has spurred this rise of user participation and creativity? What motivates Digital Natives (and Immigrants, too) from Boston to Bangladesh to make mashups and maintain profiles on social networks? Is it simply a matter of available interactive software, or is this in fact a statement about our global culture?

According to Palfrey and Gasser, the wave of cheap, ultra-simple technology has fostered and ultimately powers the culture of the true Digital Native (Palfrey and Gasser, forthcoming). Broadband connectivity, available to half the people in the United States, Northern Europe, and East Asia, can now handle large video and audio files, allowing people to access and then remix digital content using inexpensive, readily available multimedia software. Other aspects of our current technological infrastructure are instrumental in the shift from passive content consumption to active creation. The open-source software movement has heralded such innovations as folksonomic organization (“tagging,” as it known more commonly), Creative Commons, and is in fact in itself an example of end-user collaboration and social sharing at the very core of this evolution.

It is clear that the technological infrastructure is well suited for the large-scale production and proliferation of information, knowledge, and culture. What then motivates Digital Natives to create mashups, film their own videos, contribute to an online encyclopedia for free, and lead a full life complete with real estate and raincoats in a virtual world? In an era of increased concern over privacy, why do people post their personal information on Facebook and MySpace profiles, tag family photos from a recent vacation on Flickr, and blog about every detail of their lives?

There are countless possible motivations that would lead an end-user, Digital Native or otherwise, to create content and share it on the web. The prospect of financial reward, whether immediate or long-term, is certainly a consideration as many budding journalists and writers begin with blogs that they hope will be spotted by editors at newspapers and magazines. Musicians set up fanpages on MySpace, which can turn out to be quite lucrative (for example, The Summer Obsession landed a Virgin Records contract after being discovered on MySpace). Future financial compensation is hardly a reason motivating many to create. A great number of the Internet population creates content for the pure sake of self-expression. Some people do it for fame or notoriety. Others do it for simple pleasure of enjoyment and the desire to participate in a collaborative environment. Others, still, do it for organizational reasons. With tagging applications such as Flickr or Delicious, your photos or collection of interesting articles can be pulled up from any computer with Internet access.