(Video link here.)  Steven Berlin Johnson’s life work is exploring where innovation come from. In this video, he shows how play and pleasure may be as powerful drivers of invention as necessity.

Sometimes people invent things because they want to stay alive or feed their children or conquer the village next door. But just as often, new ideas come into the world simply because they’re fun.

Many of those playful but seemingly frivolous inventions ended up sparking momentous transformations in science, in politics and society.



His mind-boggling little film shows how the modern computer didn’t just arise from military technology. It required other building blocks: music boxes, toy robot flute players, harpsichord keyboards, typewriters, colorful patterns woven into fabric via programmable looms.



We’d amend his thesis slightly:

You’ll find the future wherever people are having the most fun taking the most pleasure and freely playing.


Which brings us back to our dog-eared, beloved, wisdom-anywhere-you-open-it, copy of Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art.

In play, animals, people, or whole societies get to experiment with all sorts of combination and permutations of body forms, social forms, thought forms, images, and rules that would not be possible in a world that functions on immediate survival values. A creature that plays is more readily adaptable to changing contexts and conditions. Play as free improvisation sharpens our capacity to deal with a changing world. 



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