In an interview with Wired in 1995 Steve Jobs had this to say about creativity in the tech industry:
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.
In the past 18 years this quote has become quite famous and has been applied to creativity in lots of areas beyond tech. It sprung to mind when we watched the first two episodes of Tractor Monkeys, not because it applied to Tractor Monkeys but because it didn’t.
You could make a fairly strong argument that Tractor Monkeys is just Spicks & Specks, Talkin’ ‘bout Your Generation and maybe The White Room all combined in to one show. And that this is fine because as Steve Jobs pointed out creativity is just putting together lots of existing things to make new things. Except that that’s not true: in TV, combining lots of existing ideas to make a new one usually results in something crap. And it’s probably more a sign of creatives who aren’t out there having diverse experiences than ones who are.
Here’s what Steve Jobs said about television:
When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.
So yeah, we wanted Tractor Monkeys. We virtually asked for it, because lots of Australians watched Spicks & Specks and TBYG in large numbers and someone at the ABC took note of that. Thanks for making our dreams come true, guys!
It’s virtually pointless to actually review Tractor Monkeys, it being a show where some relatively well-known comedians and personalities answer questions based on archive footage whilst trying to put some zingers out there. We found our minds wandering a bit as we watched…this is presumably why the ABC have developed a second screen play-along app, so viewers will get involved in that and not tune out.
Actually, there are two things worth noting about Tractor Monkeys. Firstly, there’s a slightly higher proportion of women on the panel than usual: two out of the six panellists in the first show are women, and three out of six in the second show. Secondly, there’s a bit in the second episode where Sam Simmons starts doing some nostalgic whimsy about swans made from tyres and Dave O’Neil responds in a sarky-sounding way. O’Neil is no stranger to doing nostalgic whimsy himself, so perhaps there’s a turf war going on here? Okay, probably not, but when you’re sitting through a show like this you need to invent your own excitement. Or to Google some Steve Jobs quotes to help you rationalise it all.