...really good teaching is about not seeing the world the way that everyone else does...

"Good teachers perceive the world in alternative terms, and they push their students to test out these new, potentially enriching perspectives. Sometimes they do so in ways that are, to say the least, peculiar."
Mark Edmundson, "Geek Lessons" NYT, 2008

Sunday, 5 April 2009

The Play Ethic

What is 'The Play Ethic'?
... It's an idea, a meme, a concept

The Play Ethic first came to me as a phrase in the early nineties, in the midst of a rehearsal with my neo-jazz band, in a moment when our drummer re-described his own 'work ethic'. (A few minutes' activity with AltaVista - an early search engine - would confirm that the phrase was hardly original). But as soon as I heard it, I realised that it had enough capacity in it to serve as a headline bringing together a wide range of interests of mine - cultural, technological and political.

Certainly as the Nineties progressed, the idea that computers and networks were making our societies more open, our institutions more transparent, and our civic and creative voices more prominent, began to increasingly excite me. Guided by magazines like Wired and Mondo 2000, and academics like Manuel Castells, I began to explore the nascent Web – exulting both in the diversity of the voices on there, and the increasing possibilities for self-expression.

My 80's experience as a musician, using digital technolgies like samplers and synths, had gotten me used to the idea of information as infinitely malleable, produceable and "playable-with". With the Net, these informational powers promised to spread beyond the artist's enclave, into workplaces, schools and the home.

But how did the heady mass empowerment of the Net sit with the constraints, hierarchies and routines of most life within organisations? Not well, it seemed to me (I had spent a lot of the Nineties in broadcast and press environments, chafing against such limits). The sociologist Daniel Bell has often talked about the "cultural contradictions of capitalism": where industry demands both a docile producer, and a hedonistic consumer, and is perplexed when the desirousness of the second identity saps the duteousness of the first.


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