Freedom, Openness and Creativity in the Digital Economy

Every aspect of culture and economy is transforming through a process of digitization that creates new systems of archives, representations and reproduction technologies that portend a Web 3.0 and Web 4.0, where all production – material and immaterial – will be digitally designed and coordinated through distributed information systems.

Digitization transforms all aspects of cultural production and consumption, favoring the networked peer community over the individual author and blurring the distinction between artists and their audiences. These new digital logics alter the traditional organization of knowledge, education and culture, spawning new technologies as a condition of the openness of the system. Now that the production of texts, sounds and images is open to new rounds of experimentation and development, a new grammar of digital culture is created. The processes of creativity are then transformed as they are no longer controlled by traditional knowledge institutions and organizations, but rather permitted by platforms and infrastructures that encourage large-scale participation and challenge old hierarchies.

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The shift to networked media cultures based on the ethics of participation, sharing and collaboration, involve a volunteer, peer-to-peer gift economy that has its early beginnings in the right to freedom of speech, which depends upon the flow and exchange of ideas as essential to political democracy, and includes the notion of a “free press,” the market and the academy. Perhaps even more fundamentally, free speech is a significant personal, psychological and educational good that promotes self-expression and creativity, as well as the autonomy and development of the self, which is necessary for representation – in a linguistic and political sense – and for the formation of identity.

Openness has emerged as a global logic based on free and open-source software constituting a generalized response to knowledge capitalism and the attempt of the new mega-information utilities such as Google, Microsoft, and to control knowledge assets through the process of large-scale digitization, of information that is often in the public domain, of the deployment of digital rights management regimes and of strong government lobbying to enforce intellectual property law in the international context.

The Internet is a dynamic, open ecosystem that progressively changes its nature towards greater computing power, interactivity, inclusiveness, mobility, scale, and peer governance. In this regard, and as the overall system develops, it begins to approximate the complexity of the architectures of natural ecosystems. The more it develops, one might be led to hypothesize, the greater the likelihood that it will not merely emulate Earth as a global ecosystem, but will become an integrated organic whole. Open cultures become the necessary condition for the systems as a whole, for the design of open progressive technological improvements and their political, epistemic and ontological foundations.

The other side of the state and corporate digital reproduction of identity is a tendency that emphasizes the relation between openness and creativity as part of a networked group. The “open self” is self-organizing and formed at the interstices of a series of membership in online communities that shape spontaneous self-concept and self-image.

Openness to experience is one of the five major traits that has shaped personality theory since its early development by L.L. Thurstone in the 1930s and is strongly correlated with both creativity and divergent thinking. Sometimes referred to as the “big five” personality traits or “the five factor model,” trait theory emerged as a descriptive, data-driven model of a personality based on openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Openness is associated with creativity and the appreciation of art, emotionality, curiosity, self- expression and originality. One of the limitations of personality theory is its focus on the individual: in the age of networks, this centeredness might seem somewhat misplaced. There are close links between open content, open science and open collaboration that makes collaborative creativity sustainable.

Openness to experience is probably the single most significant variable in explaining creativity and there is some evidence for the relationship between brain chemistry and creative cognition as measured with divergent thinking. Openness can also be defined in terms of the number, frequency, and quality of links within a network. Indeed, the mutual reinforcement of openness and creativity gels with Daniel Pink’s (2005) contention that right-brainers will rule the future. According to Pink, we are in the transition from an “Information Age” that valued knowledge workers to a “Conceptual Age” that values creativity and right-brain-directed aptitudes such as design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning.

Creativity as the New Development Paradigm

The contemporary politics of creativity rests on the intersection between art and politics tracing the influence between art and labor in the form of co-creativity and peer collaboration within the new mode of social production. This much, at least in its nascent form, has now been recognized by the United Nations (2008): that there is another reality and narrative emerging that provides an interpretation of “globalization as connectivity” rather than economic integration or free trade and that it is “reshaping the overall pattern of cultural production, consumption and trade in a world increasingly filled with images, sounds, texts and symbols” (p. iii).1 As the “Overview” of the UN Creative Economy Report 2008 clarifies:

In the contemporary world, a new development paradigm is emerging that links the economy and culture, embracing economic, cultural, technological and social aspects of development at both the macro and micro levels. Central to the new paradigm is the fact that creativity, knowledge and access to information are increasingly recognized as powerful engines driving economic growth and promoting development in a globalizing world. “Creativity” in this context refers to the formulation of new ideas and to the application of these ideas to produce original works of art and cultural products, functional creations, scientific inventions and technological innovations (p. 3).

This mainstream neoclassical economic orientation endeavors to understand the economic aspect of creativity through its contributions to entrepreneurship, and the ways in which it fosters innovation, enhances productivity and promotes economic growth. One might also follow the debates in the literature on “cognitive capitalism” to focus on the side of labor rather than capital and begin to interpret this in the light of “biopolitics” and see it signaling, “the moment that the traditional nation/State dichotomy is overtaken by a political economy of life in general,” where “power has invested life” to create “sites of the production of subjectivity” privileging, “the transformation of work in the organization of labor”(Negri, 2008: 13-14). Antonio Negri investigates the organization of labor under neoliberal globalization and the radical transformation of the production process though new processes of self-regulation and expressive creativity unleashed by information and communication technology that facilitates the rise of what Negri and others call “immaterial labor” (after Karl Marx’s “general intellect”) as the dominant productive force that takes place with the development and cultivation of new laboring subjectivities.

A manifesto for education in the age of cognitive capitalism must address the question of new laboring subjectivities and their cultivation, socialization and education (Peters et al, 2009). In this case we can take our as our starting point the “creative energy of labor”. As Negri (2008: 20) argues:

In the Fordist era, temporality was measured according to the law of labor value: Consequently it concerned an abstract, quantitative, analytic temporality, which, because it was opposed to living labor time, arrived at the composition of the productive value of capital. As it is described by Marx, capitalist production represents the synthesis of the living creativity of labor and of the exploitive structures organized by fixed capital and its temporal laws of productivity. In the era of post-Fordism, on the contrary, temporality is no longer – nor totally – enclosed within the structures of constant capital: as we have seen, intellectual, immaterial, and affective production (which characterizes post-Fordist labor) reveals a surplus. An abstract temporality – that is to say, the temporal measure of labor – is incapable of understanding the creative energy of labor itself (my emphasis).


Negri, Antonio (2008) “The Labor of the Multitude and the Fabric of Biopolitics.” Trans. Sara Mayo, Peter Graefe and Mark Coté. Ed. Mark Coté. Mediations 23.2 (Spring 2008) 8-25. Retrieved from

Peters, M.A., Marginson, S. and Murphy, P. (2009) Creativity and the Global Knowledge Economy. New York, Peter Lang.

Pink, D. (2005) A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York, NY: Penguin.