Are We Stifling Individuality?

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Paula Marantz Cohen shared her analysis of a situation in the Opinion Section of the Wall Street Journal on in the September 13-14, 2014 weekend session. There is another conclusion possible.

She reports at a young friend told a story about an experience with a 7 year old girl who was working on a drawing. Her friend, looing at the work, said to the girl in an encouraging fashion “That’s good work. Are you proud of it?”  “I’m not sure”, said the little girl, “I’ll bring it to school and see how many ‘likes’ I get.” Her friend reported the story with incredulity. Ms. Cohen had a stronger reaction, believing that the child’s response reflects a culturally significant trend.

At this stage of reading the article, I also was shocked. Instead of taking pride in her work for her creativity and judging it with her own independent perspective, she was allowing the other people to determine what she should think about her work!  It’s the same evil that Leo Buscaglia spoke about in his many works, including Living, Loving and Learning – that starting as early as kindergarten, children are encouraged to reject their own views and conform to other’s standards of art, etc. Ayn Rand spoke about this trend in greater depth in the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, as people giving up their individual decision-making capabilities to adopt the “collective” opinion of others.

Ms. Cohen focuses on a different issue – though it points to the same problem. Entitled “We Are all Quants Now”, she concludes that the girl understands her artwork in quantitative terms. “It’s the trickle-down effect of our culture of assessment and ‘big data’ analysis… the sane sorts of assessment tools drive the marketplace, as Netflix and Amazon quantify our buying habits and pitch us products based on our user profile. Is there any wonder that a young child would want to assess her artwork using the same tools?”

In other words, by making decisions based on the quantity of “likes’ of others, people are denigrating their own individual opinions and creative approaches in favor of those of others. Are these tools stifling creativity and encouraging conformity?

What do you think??

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