If necessity is the mother of invention, then play is its father

RAEL’S COMMENT:
Play, play, play! Life is a game!

 

In a new book, Steven Johnson argues that many inventions, considered mindless amusements in their time, wind up leading to serious innovations later

Humans have been inventing ways to entertain themselves for eons. These amusements, from carving bone flutes to playing chess to cooking with new spices, shopping and drinking in bars, are often seen as just that.

But Steven Johnson, a bestselling author of ten books, including How We Got To Now and Where Good Ideas Come From, wants to upend that thinking. In his newest, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, he argues that these delightful pursuits are often the seed for groundbreaking innovations. The first music boxes, surprisingly, laid the groundwork for computers, and illusionists performing stunts in the 1800s are, in part, to thank for virtual reality systems. There’s no knowing what will come from the seemingly frivolous things we do today.

You have written about the patterns behind innovations across time and discipline, and how one invention can lead quite unexpectedly to a slew of others. So what made you turn to this topic, about play being the mother of invention?

It really came out of the How We Got To Now project, and that format of looking at parts of the modern world that we take for granted and tracing their history back to where these ideas and innovations came from. There are just so many great stories you can tell. The world is filled with things that have these interesting histories to them. With this book, I wanted to build on that structure, but to have an organizing argument.

If Necessity Is the Mother of Invention, Then Play Is Its Father
In a new book, Steven Johnson argues that many inventions, considered mindless amusements in their time, wind up leading to serious innovations later
Steven-Johnson-(c)-Nutopia-Ltd-large.jpg
Author Steven Johnson looks at many of history’s “artifacts of the future” that hinted at huge technological, scientific and cultural breakthroughs to come in his new book, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World. (Nutopia Ltd.)
By Megan Gambino
SMITHSONIANMAG.COM
NOVEMBER 16, 2016
23
Humans have been inventing ways to entertain themselves for eons. These amusements, from carving bone flutes to playing chess to cooking with new spices, shopping and drinking in bars, are often seen as just that.

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But Steven Johnson, a bestselling author of ten books, including How We Got To Now and Where Good Ideas Come From, wants to upend that thinking. In his newest, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, he argues that these delightful pursuits are often the seed for groundbreaking innovations. The first music boxes, surprisingly, laid the groundwork for computers, and illusionists performing stunts in the 1800s are, in part, to thank for virtual reality systems. There’s no knowing what will come from the seemingly frivolous things we do today.

You have written about the patterns behind innovations across time and discipline, and how one invention can lead quite unexpectedly to a slew of others. So what made you turn to this topic, about play being the mother of invention?

It really came out of the How We Got To Now project, and that format of looking at parts of the modern world that we take for granted and tracing their history back to where these ideas and innovations came from. There are just so many great stories you can tell. The world is filled with things that have these interesting histories to them. With this book, I wanted to build on that structure, but to have an organizing argument.

I have always been interested in play. I wrote this book Everything Bad Is Good For You a million years ago that was defending video games and things like that. Back in my grad school days, I had spent a lot of time writing and thinking about department stores and shopping as a cultural institution in the 19th century. I had all of these different threads, between games and the history of shopping, the history of play, and the history of things that we did for fun. Initially, I thought that would be interesting in and of itself.

But the more I dug into the research, the more I realized that there was a really important and profound point here, which was that all of these seemingly trivial, seemingly frivolous pastimes had actually led to a disproportionate number of world changing events and ideas, political upheaval, or technological and scientific breakthroughs.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/if-necessity-mother-invention-then-play-its-father-180961107/

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