The Imagination Age is a theoretical period beyond the Information Age where creativity and imagination will become the primary creators of economic value. In contrast, the main activities of the Information Age are analysis and thinking. The concept holds that technologies like virtual reality, user created content and YouTube will change the way humans interact with each other and create economic and social structures. A key concept is that the rise of an immersive virtual reality—the cyberspace or the metaverse—will raise the value of "imagination work" done by designers, artists, etc. over rational thinking as a foundation of culture and economics.
Origins of the term
The term Imagination Age (as well as Age of Imagination) were first introduced in an essay by designer and writer Charlie Magee in 1993. His essay, "The Age of Imagination: Coming Soon to a Civilization Near You" proposes the idea that the best way to assess the evolution of human civilization is through the lens of communication.
The most successful groups throughout human history have had one thing in common: when compared to their competition they had the best system of communication. The fittest communicators—whether tribe, citystate, kingdom, corporation, or nation—had (1) a larger percentage of people with (2) access to (3) higher quality information, (4) a greater ability to transform that information into knowledge and action, (5) and more freedom to communicate that new knowledge to the other members of their group.
Imagination Age, as a philosophical tenet heralding a new wave of cultural and economic innovation, appears to have been first introduced by artist, writer and cultural philosopher Rita J. King in November 2007 essay for the British Council entitled, "The Emergence of a New Global Culture in the Imagination Age", where she began using the phrase, "Toward a New Global Culture and Economy in the Imagination Age":
Rather than exist as an unwitting victim of circumstance, all too often unaware of the impact of having been born in a certain place at a certain time, to parents firmly nestled within particular values and socioeconomic brackets, millions of people are creating new virtual identities and meaningful relationships with others who would have remained strangers, each isolated within their respective realities.
King further refined the development of her thinking in a 2008 Paris essay entitled, "Our Vision for Sustainable Culture in the Imagination Age" in which she states,
Active participants in the Imagination Age are becoming cultural ambassadors by introducing virtual strangers to unfamiliar customs, costumes, traditions, rituals and beliefs, which humanizes foreign cultures, contributes to a sense of belonging to one's own culture and fosters an interdependent perspective on sharing the riches of all systems. Cultural transformation is a constant process, and the challenges of modernization can threaten identity, which leads to unrest and eventually, if left unchecked, to violent conflict. Under such conditions it is tempting to impose homogeneity, which undermines the highly specific systems that encompass the myriad luminosity of the human experience.
King has expanded her interpretation of the Imagination Age concept through speeches at the O'Reilly Media, TED, Cusp, and Business Innovation Factory conferences. King also edits "The Imagination Age" blog.
The term Imagination Age was subsequently popularized in techno-cultural discourse by other writers, futurists and technologists, who attributed the term to King, including Jason Silva and Tish Shute a technology entrepreneur and publisher of Augmented Reality and emerging technology blog "UgoTrade".
Earlier, one-time, references to the Imagination Age can be found attributed to Carl W. Olson in his 2001 book "The Boss is Dead...: Leadership Breakthroughs for the Imagination Age, virtual worlds developer Howard Stearns in 2005, and Cathilea Robinett in 2007.
The ideas of the Imagination Age depend in large part upon an idea of progress through history because of technology, notably outlined by Marx.
That cultural progress has been categorized into a number of major stages of development. According to this idea civilization has progressed through the following ages, or epochs:
- Agricultural Age – economy dominated by physical work with wooden tools and animals in order to produce food
- Industrial Age – economy dominated by factories to produce commodities
- Information Age – economy dominated by knowledge workers using computers and other electronic devices for the purposes of research, finance, consulting, information technology, and other services
Following this is a new paradigm created by virtual technology, high speed internet, massive data storage, and other technologies. This new paradigm, the argument goes, will create a new kind of global culture and economy called the Imagination Age.
Economic rise of imagination
The Imagination Age would be a society and culture dominated by an imagination economy. The idea relies on a key Marxist concept that culture is a superstructure fully conditioned by the economic substructure. According to Marxist thinking certain kinds of culture and art were made possible by the adoption of farming technology. Then with the rise of industry new forms of political organization (democracy, militarism, fascism, communism) were made possible along with new forms of culture (mass media, news papers, films). These resulted in people changing. In the case of industrialization people were trained to become more literate, to follow time routines, to live in urban communities.
The concept of the Imagination Age extends this to a new order emerging presently.
An imagination economy is defined by some thinkers as an economy where intuitive and creative thinking create economic value, after logical and rational thinking has been outsourced to other economies.
Michael Cox Chief Economist at Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas argues that economic trends show a shift away from information sector employment and job growth towards creative jobs. Jobs in publishing, he has pointed out are declining while jobs for designers, architects, actors & directors, software engineers and photographers are all growing. This shift in job creation is a sign the beginning of the Imagination Age. The 21st century has seen a growth in games and interactive media jobs.
Cox argues that the skills can be viewed as a "hierarchy of human talents", with raw physical effort as the lowest form of value creation, above this skilled labor and information entry to creative reasoning and emotional intelligence. Each layer provides more value creation than the skills below it, and the outcome of globalization and automation is that labor is made available for higher level skills that create more value. Presently these skills tend to be around imagination, social and emotional intelligence.
Key to the idea that imagination is becoming the key commodity of our time is a confidence that virtual reality technology like Oculus Rift and HoloLens will emerge to take much of the place of the current text-and-graphic dominated internet. This will provide a 3D internet where imagination and creativity (over information and search) will be key to creating user experience and value.
The concept is not limited to just virtual reality. Charlie Magee states that the technology that will develop during the Imagination Age would include:
The best bet is on a hybrid breakthrough created by the meshing of nanotechnology, computer science (including artificial intelligence), biotechnology (including biochemistry, biopsychology, etc.), and virtual reality.
In The Singularity is Near, Raymond Kurzweil states that future combination of AI, nano-technology, and biotechnology will create a world where anything that can be imagined will be possible, raising the importance of imagination as the key mode of human thinking.
Rita J. King has been the single major advocate of the Imagination Age concept and its implications on cultural relations, identity and the transformation of the global economy and culture. King has expounded on the concept through speeches at the O'Reilly Media and TED conferences and has argued that virtual world technology and changes in people's ability to imagine other lives could promote world understanding and reduce cultural conflict. Some public policy experts have argued the emergence of the Imagination Age out of the Information Age will have a major impact on overall public policy.
- Attention economy
- Cognitive-cultural economy
- Cognitive Surplus, 2010 book
- Information society
- Indigo Era
- Netocracy, concept whereby power revolves around the ability to form and use networks and technological tools
- Post-scarcity economy
- Pautler, Albert J., Jr. 1998 "Workforce Education: Issues for the New Century."
- Pucel, David J. 1998 "The Changing Role of Vocational Education and the Comprehensive High School."
- Carl W. Olson "The Boss is Dead...: Leadership Breakthroughs for the Imagination Age" ISBN 0-7596-1576-4
- Sultan Abdullah Bahabri 2003 "The Buzz and the Sting" Archived 2012-07-10 at Archive.today
- "The Age of Imagination: Coming Soon to a Civilization Near You"
- "The Emergence of a New Global Culture in the Imagination Age". Archived from the original on 2008-03-20. Retrieved 2010-08-04.
- "Our Vision for Sustainable Culture in the Imagination Age". The Imagination AGe. Retrieved 2008-02-25.
- "Congratulations to Rita J. King, Gov 2.0 Award Winner". The Imagination Age. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
- "Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds". O'Reilly Gov2.0 Expo. Retrieved 2009-09-08.
- "TEDxNASA – Rita King – Creativity and Design of Identity and Community". TEDxNASA YouTube Channel. Retrieved 2010-11-22.
- "Rita King: Virtual world muse of the new digital reality". Business Innovation Factory. Retrieved 2010-09-16.
- Silva, Jason. "LOVELAND and the Imagination Age". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2010-11-22.
- "Global Communities in The Imagination Age". UgoTrade. Retrieved 2007-11-19.
- "The Imagination Age". Wetmachine. Retrieved 2005-07-10.
- "A Champion for the Imagination Age". Government Technology. Retrieved 2007-08-08.
- Colvin, Geoffrey "The imagination economy", FORTUNE Magazine, July 5, 2006, Reproduced in CNN Money online
- needs reference
- Joshua Brockman, NPR 2010 "When Play Means Pay: Video Game Jobs On The Rise"
- Phil Searle "Q&A: Michael Cox, Chief Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas"
- Kurzweil, Ray "The Singularity is Near" Viking Penguin 2005 p299-300 ISBN 0-7156-3561-1
- "Playing Metanomics :: The Imagination Age". Archived from the original on 2012-03-08. Retrieved 2009-11-14.
- Tod Newcombe "A Champion for the Imagination Age" Public CIO