Trying to solve an Angry Birds level sent me on a search for online solutions. But, is a problem for us that’s so easy to find answers, and is our copy culture a growing consequence of this?
Like most other smartphone and iPad users, I’m addicted to the game Angry Birds. There’s a holiday edition with some enjoyably tricky levels. And, a puzzle per day, like an Advent Calendar.
Yesterday I was stuck trying to figure out the latest challenge. Then, I remembered a conversation a couple of weeks back where someone was saying that you can see Angry Birds levels on YouTube.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that a simple search yielded numerous videos of the level I was struggling with. Convenient, yes. But, troubling as well.
Copy Culture In An Age Of Abundant Information
Having grown up in the “dark ages,” where knowledge was golden (because it was rare), I’m always adjusting to this new era of cheap and ubiquitous information. Still, I’m cautious to speak out in favour of an old school value like working things out for yourself.
“What I learned on my own I still remember” Nicholas Nassim Taleb
Puzzles and puzzle based games are fun. There’s an inherent satisfaction in being patient and smart enough to find the solution. However, if the formula is just a quick google search away, what does that do to the game? Does it diminish the challenge and the possibility for intellectual growth?
After all, there’s a big difference between copying somebody else’s answer and working one out for yourself. Both might solve the puzzle. But, only one offers a path for personal growth and lessons you can apply for future puzzles.
Is Copy Culture Diminishing Our Originality?
You often hear people say all music sounds the same these days?
It’s a common complaint that most popular music sounds the same these days. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Every era has its “sound.” But, it used to be that if you wanted to copy the sound of a hit record all you had was your ears and the limited equipment available to you to try and recreate the tones you heard. As a kid, when we heard a great guitar sound, we might’ve had a vague idea what guitar or amplifier the guitarist was using. But, we had no idea about the exact equipment, how it was modified, the settings used, or how it was recorded.
Now, all of that detailed information is available in articles, interviews, and videos. If you want to copy the sound of Eddie Van Halen or Stevie Ray Vaughn you can right down to the smallest details.
What used to take years now takes weeks. If every studio is etting up their microphones the same way, using the same EQ and compression settings and delivering the same kinds of mastered results then how can we be surprised so much music sounds the same?
Resisting Copy Culture
The path to mastery was paved with a lot of innovation. When you couldn’t easily copy you had to discover for yourself. A lot of the tunes and riffs I wrote, especially in my earlier years came from trying (and failing) to learn songs by ear. It’s silly I know, but it was easier to write a new song, than copy an existing one. If I were young now I’d be a lot less frustrated since there’s so many videos teaching you how to play songs. But, I’d be less original.
I’m not sure easy answers are always good ones. Sometimes. Maybe. But, when we copy someone else’s solution, we don’t really grapple as deeply with the problem and, as a consequence, we’re more likely to be stumped again by the same problem when it comes up.
The irony is we copy to avoid failure. But, it’s important to fail. We learn some of our most important lessons in the shadow of failure.