Push Play

July 6, 2018

The Google Play and iTunes apps have two fundamental states: Play or pause. It reflects a binary approach to life and ‘balance’ that is oh-so-21st-century. We must be either all on or all off.

Play, as a symbol, is a triangle pointing forwards. It implies both advancement and exploration, but play has no agenda beyond the presentness of the game. Beyond the immediate, objective of the game, play is usually pointless – and that is the point.

The writer Walter Kerr said, “We are all of us compelled to read for profit, party for contacts, lunch for contracts…and stay home for the weekend to rebuild the house.”

Moreover, while leading lifestyles that drive us to aspire for better futures – we forget about the now.

For children (and some of the best kids I know are adults by strict mathematical calculations,) there is no obstacle to being present. If you watch kids play, they are uninhibited by themselves or the social constructs that will later label and define their identities. They are mindful and present, absorbed even, in their current activities.

That is the essence of creative freedom. When there is no future state, we are free to explore and navigate all of the things that ‘could be’ rather than bound by the things that ‘are’, the things that ‘should be’, or worse – the pre-determination of the way things ‘will be’.

One of the first games that children play is ‘house’. They are games of pretence where the child imagines their own life as it could be. Watch them play. They navigate through their extraordinary lives where they are doctors, scientists, artists and famous singers. They have any number of children themselves and you can see the best and worst of your own parenting style reflected back.

Dr Carl Jung, one of the most influential thought leaders on human behaviour and psychiatry in history says that “the debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable.” Play is our natural state of learning and innovation. Play is about taking risks and finding your own way. As a child, that is about learning how to do things. As an adult, play can take the reigns off genius.

There have been times in history when adults were able to sit around all day and play – the age of the leisure classes. The social structure produced a wide range of horrific experiences for those who did not have access to leisure but it did provide an opportunity for Darwin, DaVinci, and Shakespeare to play.

So we should all play more. This brings me back to the beginning where I talked about being all on or all off. I’m not sure the problem is with play – I think the problem is with the pause. If we are engaged, it is geared towards producing something. If we are off, it tends to be binge-watching, binge-drinking or some other mechanism for escape. There is no outlet for creative learning or exploration when we disengage, and it defies an important meaning of play that is to be “in-play”: the state of being active.

Action, which may have some pretence, but no purpose beyond itself is play. Play incubates creativity, expression, reflection and thought…so press play.

“Think of playtime like an innovation lab where tomorrow’s civilisation is being actively designed.” – Jordan Shapiro.


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