Pat Kane's notes towards his presentation to #ikeatemporary, Milan Expo, 26 June, 2015
FIVE WAYS THAT PLAY CAN SAVE THE WORLD:
1 PLAY IS AN ESSENTIAL COMPONENT OF HUMAN NATURE - AND ONE OF OUR BETTER PARTS. THE MORE WE EXPRESS IT, THE BETTER WE BECOME
2 PLAY HELPS US BECOME WISER - BOTH PERSONALLY AND AS CITIZENS
3 PLAY POINTS TO A DIFFERENT (& BETTER) SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC ORDER
4 PLAY BRINGS MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN TOGETHER - & PUTS CHILDREN FIRST
5 PLAY RECONNECTS US WITH THE PLANET - BUT IN A COMPLEX, PRAGMATIC WAY
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1. PLAY IS AN ESSENTIAL COMPONENT OF HUMAN NATURE - AND ONE OF OUR BETTER PARTS. THE MORE WE EXPRESS IT, THE BETTER WE BECOME
A playful revolution in intellectual life
First in philosophy and social sciences from the sixties to the nineties... Then in biology and mind science in the last 20 years... Science defeated old Puritan and industrial-age idea that play is trivial, or silly, or worse - "the souls playday is the devils workday"
The version of that in science - evolutionary science - is wondering how play can even exist - it wastes energy, it leaves us open to predators, it risks injury - maladaptive. But it exists in nature! How/why? Play like sexual pleasure or deep sleep - we don't need as much of it to survive as we do - but boy does it help!
All three are zones where humans can safely, or at least non-fatally, explore the possibilities of their world - both mental and physical, emotional and conceptual. We need to do this because not only is our world complex and demanding, but WE are too - we reflective, imaginative, tool-using creatures, who love and lie, build and destroy.
I call humans the RADICAL ANIMAL radical because we have the mental power to go to the root of things animal because we are not robots (yet! Though we can use them!). We yearn, are enraged, are fearful, are caring, are lustful, are curious. PLAY is the behaviour that helps us to manage and make the best use of our radical, transforming, sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrible human nature.
Our forms of play, our playgrounds - whether arts or sports, or games and tech, or in leisure and family pursuits - are the places where we safely explore and test and prototype our relationships with others and the material world. The more we play, the better we get at living our complex human lives [Steven Pinker - the Better Angels of our Nature - fall in the rate of daily violence in our lives since medieval times - accelerated in an era where social contract and the rule of law engenders concept of "fair play"]
2 PLAY HELPS US BECOME WISER - BOTH PERSONALLY AND AS CITIZENS
We are leaning so much from child psychology and mind science at the moment A consensus - that we are over-managing our children's development, particularly when it comes to their play Jaak Panksepp, the great figure of affective neuroscience, talks about the importance of social play, or even rough-and-tumble play, to development of complex mammals. Families can and must play together - but parents must let children play amongst themselves too.
• we connect with the world by playing with it - crafting and testing its materials. And the joy we get from that! From being active, not passive, in relations to the stuff of our world! IKEA!
• In the games we play, we figure out what it is to agree a set of rules with other human beings, that might - for as long as we agree - bind our behaviour.
But in PLAY - as opposed to politics or business - we remember that those social rules can be changed, for the sake of a better, more satisfying, more inclusive game. A better play childhood will makes us less slavish consumers and more active and conscious citizens.
But remember what the scientists call neuroplasticity - the very playful malleability of the brain. A better play adulthood can also create the same effects. Which brings me to my third way play can save the world...
3. PLAY IS THE PATH TO A DIFFERENT (& BETTER) SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC ORDER
We need a very big perspective here... We are just about to come out of two centuries of scientific industrialism into a new model of productive society. And all over - the manufacturing robots will eventually come to China and South America too! We have also gone through a century of advertising-led consumer society. This has to some degree exploited our playful natures - our appetite for novelty, for pleasurably mimicking and copying others.
But there has been for a long time a deep contradiction in our consumer society - in one part of our lives, urged to be dutiful, self-disciplined workers, but in another, urged to be hedonistic, desiring, dissatisfied creatures. The work ethic subverted by the pleasure ethic. Now when Google's robots drive your cars, buses and trucks... When IBM Watson answers your legal, medical and financial questions... Do robots need a work ethic? No - they just keep on working.
But how can WE maintain an industrial work ethic when there is no industrial work? We have to search for a new ethos - one that helps us adapt to a new industrial era we are less and less a part of. (My consultancy and book is all about what I call a "Play Ethic".) If we have a deep understanding of play, I think we can find it. Perfect dramatisation of this shift is the Pixar movie Wall-E. On one level, these lazy, spherical blobs are the outcome of the March of the Machines - if the old model of hedonistic consumption persists. We are all watched over by loving machines, in space malls, while the planet fills up with rubbish... However by the end of the movie, what happens? The robots and the humans return to their polluted, degraded planet, and together, they start to reanimate and restore the place - using their skills, imagination, ingenuity, teamwork.
Now here we are in IKEA, with a new product to sell...But like Lego, IKEA have the seeds of a new world in what they do. If we have to recover those wise skills of craft and citizenship, in a highly automated world, we can recover them:-- -- the HARD way - the way that the Greeks or the Spanish are, turning to each other with radical political options under collapsing economic and social conditions --- or an EASIER way - through new products and services that invite us to try out a more active, more joyfully skilled way of being. I would say that IKEA, in comparison to many, are at least pointing in the right rather than the wrong direction.
4. PLAY BRINGS MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN TOGETHER - & PUTS CHILDREN FIRST
One way that play can clearly save the world is by putting child development, and then adult development, at the centre of our priorities as a society. How would we design our cities, how many hours would we work, what kinds of products and services would we engage with, what politics would we pursue, If we put the health and development of children truly at the heart of our lives? What the play science tells us is already changing the way we think about education, from pre-school all the way to graduate level. And about how the test of a great, vibrant city or town is the extent to which children can be seen playing in its midst. But this "right to play" - meaning the right to seek forms of living and activity which answer our evolved need for joyful experiment and exploration - shouldn't just be for children. Nor even just for families. We are here at the Milan expo - it's an example of how the festival and the carnival are becoming (or returning to become) the dominant social forms for a more playful society. Other models - like the makersspace, the lab, the studio - may also express better our need for a new balance between work & play.
5. PLAY CONNECTS US WITH THE PLANET - BUT IN A COMPLEX WAY
Other animals play - and not just complex mammals, birds, octopuses - but none as powerfully or as transformatively as ourselves, the radical animal. There is a deep paradox in human play on this planet - a capacity for infinite combinations and possibilities and desires, on a planet whose finite limits (or planetary boundaries) are becoming ever more obvious. So can we really all become quiet, contemplative monks, living lightly and calmly on the planet, as some green activists would like? I find that vision of a less aspirational, less yearning human nature unrealistic - at least to those who are not primarily spiritual or religious.
But an understanding of play can help us address realistically how humans - complex, radical and playful as we are - can be engaged in the challenge of a low-carbon planet. To think of ourselves as gardeners or curators of the earth, rather than its exploiters or victims, gets nearer to answering the playful urges of human nature. What are the ingeniuous challenges of sustainable energy? How do we identify the building blocks - of wind, solar, wave, geothermal, energy conservation, new production systems, automation - and put them together in new ways? What are the models and the modules? How do we learn to think and act like this? Who can devise the methods and the marketing?