Mixing the right and left brains: How and Why?

Creative Technology, a cross between arts and technology, has significant development potential in Sri Lanka. This could be the time for seeding

In May 1985, John Sculley, its then chief executive, decided to reorganise Apple, and proposed a plan to the board that would remove founder Steve Jobs from Macintosh Group and put him in charge of ‘New Product Development’. This didn’t work well, and following a few unpleasant confrontations, Jobs was out of Apple. In 1986, he funded the spinout of The Graphics Group (later renamed Pixar) from Lucasfilm’s computer graphics division for $10 million. This was the company that produced Toy Story, the first feature-length, computer-animated movie. It was followed by (among others) A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010).

These animation movies weren’t the beginning of what we call ‘Creative Technology’, but they signified an important milestone. Animated movies, unlike the cartoons they preceded, were not just created by artists. There was a significant digital technology component involved. That perfect balance between art and technology resulted in a wonderful outcome that would not have been possible with just one skillset.

While an exact definition is not possible, creative technology is broadly an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary field combining computing, design, art and the humanities. It encircles art, product design, digital media or advertising, and media made with a software-based electronic- and/or data-driven engine.

Other examples include, but are certainly not limited to, multi-sensory experiences made using computer graphics, video production, digital cinematography, virtual reality, augmented reality, video editing, software engineering, 3D printing and the Internet of Things. In the art world, creative technology is new media art and internet art. Some believe that “creativity has the potential to be revolutionised with technology”, or view the field of creative technology as helping to “disrupt” the way people interact with computers today, and usher in a more integrated and immersive experience.

Using a popular (but scientifically inaccurate) concept, one can even see creative technology as a perfect balance of the ‘left’ and ‘right’ brains. Theory says that people are either left-brained or right-brained, meaning that one side of their brain is dominant. If you’re mostly analytical and methodical in your thinking, you’re said to be left-brained. If you tend to be more creative or artistic, you’re ‘right-brained’. Creative technology needs the development of both, simultaneously. In other words, it will be a mix of two very different skillsets. While this combination was just a dream some years ago, it is no more an impossibility – yes, even in Sri Lanka.

This may be why creative technology ranks high in Sri Lanka. As the middle class expands, they will demand a different type of entertainment. Gone are the days of the baila universe of Wally Bastiansz and M S Fernando – not because they were low quality, but because our tastes have transformed. The new middle class, with a significant component of youth, needs more technologically advanced entertainment. That could be the simple and straightforward answer. But, there is more to it.

If the need were just to entertain and educate a 20 million population in a small country just next to a huge and emerging market, we don’t need a creative technology industry at all. That could be done without any local input purely with Western and Indian resources. Especially since India’s creative technology market is massive.

Take Bollywood, for example. While it is not India’s national cinema, it is the largest film producer in India, representing 43% of net box office revenue, which amounts to $1.5 billion annually. India produces 1,900 films a year, on average, of which 340 are Hindi-language Bollywood movies. Bollywood films are multi-million-dollar productions, with the most expensive ones costing up to $20 million. One of the latest success stories was Baahubali 2 – budgeted at $39 million, made in Telugu and Tamil, with Hindi- and Malayalam-dubbed versions. The film opened in April and earned $194 million in 13 days, making it the highest grossing Indian box office hit of all time and putting it on track to become the first Indian film to cross $200 million in box office revenues. Such a huge industry can obviously not only keep the small Sri Lankan market entertained, but also support our local movie industry with skilled resources and technology.

No, that shouldn’t be the reason why Sri Lanka should take the creative industry seriously. Sri Lanka’s entertainment and education markets are anyway too small to be used as a base for a thriving creative technology industry. It only makes sense if we eye the international market where the real potential lies. It could be a serious boost potential to develop the services sector in a country with a limited manufacturing sector. Think outsourcing. We need to plug ourselves to developed creative technology industries elsewhere. That supply chain is essential for moving beyond local boundaries.

Here are some statistics relevant to the prospective workforce. In 2016, a total of 326,900 students entered government schools. The contribution from private schools, too, were reasonably high. With a total of 136,407 entering the latter, the aggregate rises to 463,300. In the same year, the number eligible for state universities was 155,550. Yes, there is no true relation between the figures, but using the Grade one admission number as a base, it was 34%. State universities could accommodate only 28,952 (or 6.25%). Even if we exclude the ones eligible for university entrance, about 28% of a batch will be looking for other avenues. Creative Technology is one key field that can absorb them, provided our focus of supply is the international market.

Creative Technology jobs make the age-old, white and blue collar distinction meaningless, too. Most jobs in this field are neither on this nor that side of the traditional line. Anybody is free to stand where they like. Perhaps, that will make more sense with a new generation that views such divisions as inconsequential.

Finally, the government, as always, has a distinct role to play. While the private sector can drive the effort (it will no doubt!), government support is essential to build the right platform. The Creative Technology industry demands massive initial investments both in terms of money and time.

If there is no politically independent national policy, they will not happen. Ad hoc taxes can destroy a budding industry overnight, no matter how attractive the opportunities. If that conducive environment can be ensured and business is at least directly separated from ubiquitous political influence, the Creative Technology industry can begin to thrive in the long term, no doubt.

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