The imagination age is a theoretical period beyond the information age where creativity and imagination will become the primary creators of economic value. This contrasts with the information age where analysis and thinking were the main activities. The concept holds that technologies like virtual reality, user created content and YouTube will change the way humans interact with each other and how they create economic and social structures. A key concept is that the rise of the immersive virtual reality, the cyberspace or the metaverse will raise the value of imagination work of designers, artists, video makers and actors over rational thinking as a foundation of culture and economics.
Origins of the term
The terms imagination age and "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" has been popularized as a cultural and economic philosophy by artist, writer and cultural philosopher Rita J. King in her November 2007 essay for the British Council, "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". 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.
Rita J. 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 Rita J. 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" ISBN 0-7596-1576-4" virtual worlds developer Howard Stearns in 2005 and Cathilea Robinett in 2007.
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.
The ages of human history
The ideas of the Imagination Age depends in large part upon an idea of progress through history because of technology, outlined by Marx.
The idea is that human culture has moved through a number of major stages of development. According to this idea civilization has progressed through the following ages or Epochs:
- Agricultural Age – Age domination by work with wooden tool and animals to produce food.
- Industrial Age – Economy dominated by factories producing commodities.
- Information Age – Economy dominated by knowledge workers using computer and other electronic devices in sectors like research, finance, consulting, information technology and other services.
Following this a new paradigm created by virtual technology, high speed internet, and other technology will emerge. This new paradigm, the argument goes, will create a new kind of global culture and economy called the Imagination Age.
Technology and the imagination age
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 3-D Internet where imagination and creativity over information and search will be key talents 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.
Culture, economy and the imagination age
Imagination Age as a philosophical tenet heralding a new wave of cultural and economic innovation appears to have been first introduced by Rita J. King in a 2008 collection of essays for the British Council entitled, "The Emergence of a New Global Culture in the Imagination Age" Says King,
"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."
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. Rita J. 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.
- Post-scarcity economy
- Cognitive-cultural economy
- Cognitive Surplus
- Information society
- Attention economy
- Netocracy, another concept which issues the distribution of power which is hypothesized to revolve around the ability to form and use networks and technological tools
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- 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"
- Charlie Magee "The Age of Imagination Coming Soon to a Civilization Near You."
- Kurzweil, Ray "The Singularity is Near" Viking Penguin 2005 p299-300 ISBN 0-7156-3561-1
- "The Emergence of a New Global Culture in the Imagination Age"
- Playing Metanomics :: The Imagination Age
- Tod Newcombe "A Champion for the Imagination Age" Public CIO
- Sultan Abdullah Bahabri 2003 "The Buzz and the Sting"