Learn through putting information together in new ways yourself . David Gauntlett

Connection Factory . David Gauntlett Professor of Media and Communications at University of Westminster.

Interview by David Jennings

I've been able to get to know David over the last year through our participation on the School of Everything Unplugged meetups in London.

David makes his ideas accessible by expressing himself in very straightforward everyday terms, more or less jargon-free. This is a welcome and somewhat uncommon trait for an academic (especially one on the editorial board of a journal called Foucault Studies). But it's very much of a piece with the agenda that David is advancing, one that puts a lot of store in giving people the means to influence and remake the worlds they live in through creative engagement with their environment and each other. This echoes one of the influences he cites: Ivan Illich, whose books like Disabling Professions and Tools for Conviviality look towards a gently radical empowerment of citizens.

Can you describe some of the themes you develop in "Making is Connecting"?
Well, the title gives the starting point. I mean "making is connecting" in three main ways:
  • First, making is connecting because you have to connect things together (materials and ideas) to make something new;
  • Second, making is connecting because acts of creativity usually involve, at some point, a social dimension and connect us with other people;
  • And making is connecting because through making things and sharing them in the world, we increase our engagement and connection with our social and physical environments.

At first I thought it would be like a description of changes that are happening, but now it’s more of a prescription as well. Creative opportunities: people turning off their televisions and doing something more interesting instead.
David Jennings (DJ): So how does that improve people's lives as citizens and learners?
David Gauntlett (DG): Sitting back and consuming media for entertainment or information is fine, but one of the things we know about learning is that you learn through doing things, and being active — putting information together in new ways yourself, rather than just receiving it. If you're actually going to engage with something, then a creative process of thinking and making will not only help you learn about that thing, but also help you create new ideas about that thing.

In what way is sharing important to your prescription?
It's hard to separate out the importance of sharing because it's all part of one process. Obviously you can be creative on your own, locked away in a room writing a novel or a symphony, but I think basically creativity is a social process where much of the value or reward that we get from doing it comes from sharing and getting feedback, and being inspired by other people. So I think at its heart it's a social process. That's why you need sharing, otherwise you're losing something. Even creative people who work alone ultimately want to share their work — so sharing is part of creativity.

DJ: There's a sense in your work — when you refer to William Morris, for example, or cite Richard Sennett's The Craftsman — of rolling back the industrialisation and mass media models of the last 150 years. I haven't read The Craftsman, though — only this fascinating review of it — so why is that book important to you?
DG: What I think Richard Sennett's book boils down to — amid lots of interesting examples — is an attempt to prove that thinking and making are part of the same process. It's not that you have thoughts and make plans, and then you make something, but the process of making things is also a deeply intellectual process.
In terms of "rolling back 150 years", it's not really about that, but maybe it is about re-connecting with the kind of everyday creativity which may have flourished more in the past, and which doesn't flourish in a consumerist, TV-watching society. Today we have tools to share the fruits of that creativity, easily and widely, which they didn't have before, so that's bound to help.

You mention the Transition Towns movement as an example of Making is Connecting — could you explain why?
Transition Towns are an opportunity for people to come together and make something new — make their town anew — which creates social connections through shared concerns. It also means that people are actively taking an interest in the way their town does business and transport and services. So it's about having that active connection with your environment.