Eight Takes on Play

From John Dewey‘s Democracy and Education, pp 205-206:

It is important not to confuse the psychological distinction between play and work with the economic distinction. Psychologically, the defining characteristic of play is not amusement nor aimlessness. It is the fact that the aim is thought of as more activity in the same line, without defining continuity of action in reference to results produced. Activities as they grow more complicated gain added meaning by greater attention to specific results achieved. Thus they pass gradually into work. Both are equally free and intrinsically motivated, apart from false economic conditions which tend to make play into idle excitement for the well to do, and work into uncongenial labor for the poor. Work is psychologically simply an activity which consciously includes regard for consequences as a part of itself; it becomes constrained labor when the consequences are outside of the activity as an end to which activity is merely a means. Work which remains permeated with the play attitude is art — in quality if not in conventional designation.

From Erik Erikson‘s Identity: Youth and Crisis, pp 164-165:

It is true, of course, that the adolescent, during the final stage of his identity formation, is apt to suffer more deeply than he ever did before or ever will again from a confusion of roles . . . Much of this apparent confusion thus must be considered social play — the true genetic successor of childhood play. Similarly, the adolescent’s ego development demands and permits playful, if daring, experimentation in fantasy and introspection . . . Whether or not a given adolescent’s newly acquired capacities are drawn back into infantile conflict depends to a significant extent on the quality of the opportunities and rewards available to him in his peer clique as well as on the more formal ways in which society at large invites a transition from social play to work experimentation and from rituals of transit to final commitments, all of which must be based on an implicit mutual contract between the individual and society.

From Cindi Katz‘s Growing Up Global: Economic Restructuring and Children’s Everyday Lives, pp 96:

Each of these phenomena individually and collectively changed the everyday lives of children in Howa, impinging on the relationship between work and play in ways that anticipated and seemed to reinforce the stricter deviations between work and leaser time that characterized industrial capitalism. Under these conditions, work is valorized while play is trivialized as something done only in childhood or in time off from work. But the relationship between work and play is more vibrant and fertile than that, and in Howa its potency was still apparent . . . For one, children’s playful activities, like play almost everywhere, remained a psychological reservoir, an oasis for imagining things and themselves differently, for experimenting with various social and cultural relations, and for exercising what Walter Benjamin (1978a) called the mimetic faculty, where, in the acts of seeing resemblances and creating similarities, the power of making something utterly new lies coiled.

From Kurt Lewin‘s A Dynamic Theory of Personality, pp 105:

The fundamental dynamic property of play is that it has to do with events which belong in one respect to the level of reality, namely, in so far as they are activities to other persons (e.g., as against daydreams). But at the same time play behavior is much less bound by the laws of reality than is nonplay behavior: both the goal setting and the execution are in much greater degree subject to the pleasure of the person . . . The play field is hence a region more or less limited as regards reality which shows even in its content a most immediate relation to the unreality of air castles and wish ideals.

From Jean Piaget‘s Play, Dreams, and Imitation in Childhood, pp 147-150:

[Play] is determined by a certain orientation of the behavior, or by a general “pole” of the activity, each particular action being characterized by its greater or less proximity to the pole and by the kind of equilibrium between the polarized tendencies . . . play is distinguishable by a modification, varying in degree, of the conditions of equilibrium between reality and the ego. We can therefore say that if adapted activity and thought constitute an equilibrium between assimilation and accommodation, play begins as soon as there is predominance of assimilation . . . Since all thought involves assimilation, and ludic assimilation is only distinctive in that it subordinates accommodation instead of being in equilibrium with it, play is to be conceived as being both related to adapted thought by a continuous sequence of intermediaries, and bound up with thought as a whole, of which it is only one pole, more or less differentiated.

From the Playgroup UK Ltd‘s Role of Play in Engaging the Youth Market:

From Article 31 of the U.N.‘s Convention on the Rights of the Child:

  1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
  2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

From Lev Vygotsky‘s Mind and Society, pp 102-104:

Though the play-development relationship can be compared to the instruction-development relationship, play provides a much wider background for changes in needs and consciousness . . . For the school child, play becomes a more limited form of activity, predominantly of the athletic type, which fills a specific role in the school child’s development but lacks the significance of play for the preschooler. At school age play does not die away but permeates the attitude towards reality. It has its own inner continuation in school instruction and work (compulsory activity based on rules). It is the essence of play that a new relation is created between the field of meaning and the visual field – that is, between situations in thought and real situations.

Securing Cyberspace in 60 Minutes

This past Sunday, 60 Minutes did a segment on cybersecurity titled “Cyberwar: Sabotaging the System.” The segment mostly focused on the “new” national security issues that cyberspace presents, while barely discussing how many of these “new” cybersecurity issues are — at least in part — caused by traditional social engineering. One example being 60 Minutes’ discussion of how CENTCOM‘s networks were infiltrated by an unknown foreign entity that was able to monitor and record all of CENTCOM’s network activity. A serious security breach, but one that is believed to be caused by modified flash drives that were left in physical areas where U.S. military personal would pick them up and use them. When these flash drives were inserted into a CENTCOM computer, it’s believed they unleashed a code that opened a backdoor to the network that allowed the foreign entity to spy.

The most interesting interview from the segment was with James Andrew Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Towards the end of his interview, Lewis offered an excellent explanation of why the U.S. has come to see cyberspace as a matter of national security and of how U.S. cyberdominance is being rationalized:

. . . if you talk to the Russians or the Chinese they say “how can you complain about us when you do exactly the same thing?” It’s a fair point, with one exception. We have more to steal. We have more to loose. We’re the place that depends on the Internet, we’ve done the most to take advantage of it. We’re the ones who have woven it into our economy, into our national security, in ways that they haven’t. So, we are more vulnerable.

The quote reveals an odd contradiction: “We” are repeatedly told by governments, corporations, and various individuals that weaving the Internet into our environment will bring more security – at the same time “we” are told by those same actors that weaving the Internet into our environment makes us less secure.

FDR on Security

A good deal of my dissertation is concerned with notions of security, and insecurity, in informational environments. While my primary concern is with young people’s experiences and understandings of cyber(in)security, I’ve also taken an interest in contemporary and historical discourses of security (e.g. Seven Takes on Security). So, I was excited to see Michael Moore discuss Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Economic Bill of Rights” in his new documentary. In his final 1944 State of the Union speech, with the U.S. near the end of WWII, FDR called for “a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all.” What’s more, the focus on security is often related to “our children” — he describes “a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival” in the 4th sentence.

In summarizing his diplomatic discussions with “Mr. Hull,” “the Generalissimo,” “Marshal Stalin,” and “Prime Minister Churchill,” FDR defines a new supreme objective for the future:

The one supreme objective for the future, which we discussed for each Nation individually, and for all the United Nations, can be summed up in one word: Security.

And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security—in a family of Nations. (emphasis added)

The speech, which you can read in full at TeachingAmericanHistory.org, concludes with a call for a “second Bill of Rights” to ensure such economic, social, and moral security:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  1. The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  3. The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  4. The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  5. The right of every family to a decent home;
  6. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  7. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  8. The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being. (emphasis added)

It’s notable that he links the expansion of our industrial economy with a need for new rights to ensure equality in the pursuit of happiness. I rarely hear “security” discussed in terms of ensuring happiness. I also find his “Necessitous men” quote notable (4th paragraph above). The FDR American Heritage Center includes a footnote for this quote, from The Public Papers & Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt Vol XIII, that states:

“Necessitous men,” says the Lord Chancellor, in Vernon v Bethell, 2 Eden 113 (1762), “are not, truly speaking, free men; but, to answer a present emergency, will submit to any terms that the crafty may impose on them.”

Security, to FDR, is thus physical, economic, social, and moral. It is necessary for the equal pursuit of happiness in an industrial economy. And, it affords citizens the freedom to resist terms imposed on them from the “crafty” during emergencies.

Of course, FDR’s “Economic Bill of Rights” never materialized in America and his declaration that “we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash” was unfortunately proven false. America – Fuck Yeah!

“Land: see Snatch.”

Attorney General Hedley Lamarr, a character from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, discovers a way to  re-route railroad tracks through the town of Rock Ridge:

Hedley Lamarr: Wait a minute… there might be legal precedent. Of course! Land-snatching!
[grabs a law book]
Hedley Lamarr: Land, land… “Land: see Snatch.”
[flips back several pages]
Hedley Lamarr: Ah, Haley vs. United States. Haley: 7, United States: nothing. You see, it can be done!

More Blazing Saddles quotes here.

Grinch Alert: Robert Iger

The GrinchAccording to PaidContent.org, Robert Iger (CEO of Walt Disney Co.) recently stated:

Our product is extremely valuable … and if we are offering it on another platform or in another location for the consumer to access it, I believe that’s more value we are delivering [to a distributor or consumer] and we should get paid appropriately.

If Disney plans to make their content space-time specific, how exactly do they plan to enforce that without violating the privacy of their consumers? Disney would have to track their content over time and across space — even after it’s been purchased. Welcome to the Cyberspace Enclosure Movement (CEM).

Berners-Lee on the “insidious” quality of vertical integration

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, on the “insidious” quality of vertical integration:

The Web’s infrastructure can be thought of as composed of four horizontal layers; from bottom to top, they are the transmission medium, the computer hardware, the software, and the content. … I am more concerned about companies trying to take a vertical slice through the layers than creating a monopoly in any one layer. A monopoly is more straight forward; people can see it and feel it, and consumers and regulators can “just say no.” But vertical integration — for example, between the medium and content — affects the quality of information and can be more insidious.

— Weaving the Web, p130

experience is the life of the law

from The Common Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr:

The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed. The law embodies the story of a nation’s development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics. In order to know what it is, we must know what it has been, and what it tends to become. We must alternately consult history and existing theories of legislation. But the most difficult labor will be to understand the combination of the two into new products at every stage. The substance of the law at any given time pretty nearly corresponds, so far as it goes, with what is then understood to be convenient; but its form and machinery, and the degree to which it is able to work out desired results, depend very much upon its past.

(emphasis added)

goodbye learning, hello workforce training

Some sad news regarding the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project:

Microsoft has joined forces with the developers of the “$100 laptop” to make Windows available on the machines.

According to Wired, Microsoft has had their sights on emerging markets in developing countries for a while now and have viewed low-cost children’s laptops as ideal vehicles for distribution. Until recently OLPC has resisted integrating Windows into their XO Children’s Machine, insisting that free and open-source software was central to their constructionist learning philosophy and necessary to give “children the opportunity to use their laptops on their own terms” (for more background see here, here and here). Sugar, the Linux based operating system designed for the XO Children’s Machine, has been described by OLPC as the “core” of their laptop’s interface and to the sharing and learning affordances of the machine.

olpc's blue screen of death

Yet, according to OLPC, it now appears that Windows XP will be bundled with the XO. This decision has apparently been motivated by countries, such as Egypt and Columbia, demanding that the computers carry Windows before they agree to buy in to the program. Their reasoning seems to be that they aren’t interested in machines for learning and sharing, they want machines that will train a generation of children for a future tech-based workforce. Not learning how to think — learning how to USE Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc…

Nicholas Negroponte (founder and chairman of OLPC) claims that a dual-boot option, similar to Apple’s, which allows the child to choose between Windows and Sugar is in the works — yet Ivan Krstić, the former top security architect for OLPC argues otherwise:

The whole “we’re investing into Sugar, it’ll just run on Windows” gambit is sheer nonsense. Nicholas knows quite well that Sugar won’t magically become better simply by virtue of running on Windows rather than Linux. In reality, Nicholas wants to ship plain XP desktops. He’s told me so. That he might possibly fund a Sugar effort to the side and pay lip service to the notion of its “availability” as an option to purchasing countries is at best a tepid effort to avert a PR disaster.

Krstić goes on to write that this realization that learning was never part of the OLPC mission (i.e. the mission is about laptop distribution) is precisely what lead him to resign from the project. Krstić concludes his post, in part, by stating:

OLPC can’t claim to be preoccupied with learning and not with training children to be office computer drones, while at the same time being coerced by hollow office drone rhetoric to deploy the computers with office drone software.

Although disagreeing with a number of key points made in a recent post by Richard Stallman (founder of the free software movement), Krstić and Stallman appear to agree on what is at stake here. As Stallman puts it, this is about “whether the XO is an influence for freedom or an influence for subjection.” Indeed, close attention to the built pedagogy of the XO Children’s Machine is needed. As the XO shifts from an entirely free and open-source machine (with the exception of a proprietary firmware program for wifi access) designed for the promotion of open learning and sharing in the social and structural environments of developing countries — to one that increasingly adopts proprietary software for the vocational training of a future workforce — the lessons being taught are of great importance. Lets be clear, its not a mistake that the mesh networking capability of the XO, which allows the computers to talk to one another and share data, is not currently supported by Windows XP. And I don’t expect that problem will be “fixed” anytime soon. If it is ever “fixed,” the sharing component will be tightly controlled and heavily regulated.

In a previous post about the XO, I praised its mesh networking capability as a way to generate autonomous communication networks which might help afford a new media space for citizen power. Of course, such autonomous digital communication poses a threat to intellectual property enforcement and thus a threat to Microsoft’s entire business model. If information and communication flows freely in developing countries (aka “new markets”) it makes it more difficult to start charging one day. Immersing children, early on, in proprietary environments where information circulation is tightly controlled and intellectual property rights are strictly enforced, helps to socialize a generation that will continue to play by the old rules rather than one that will challenge them by imagining new rules. In fact, “play” is exactly what is being co-opted here. Children’s play in technological environments (in this case, the XO) is being shaped to socially reproduce certain behaviors for future work in an informational economy. Of course children are not passive recipients, they are actors in this equation. What they do in these proprietary environments and how they may (or may not) reclaim play for creative and innovative purposes is worth watching.

we are the ones we’ve been waiting for…

From Chopra & Dexter’s Decoding Liberation: The Promise of Free and Open Source Software, p173:

Jacques Ellul imagined an iron cage constructed of technology (Ellul 1967), but never the possibility that the cage could be unlocked by its prisoners. We began with a historical note on hacking: the significance of hacking should now be clear. Hackers set out to discover the workings of technical systems but found themselves doing much more. In the cyborg society, investigating a technical system is not idle tinkering: it uncovers the roots of power. A hacker is a public investigator, a gadfly, a muckraker, a public conscience: the guilty hide while the hacker lays bare. Foucault despaired of the immanence of opaque power, but free software creates a moment in which to make the exertion of power transparent. The technical is political: to free software is to free our selves. [emphasis added]

information assimilation and the life of the child

From Dewey’s The School and Society, p100:

It was forgotten that the maximum appeal, and the full meaning in the life of the child, could be secured only when the studies were presented, not as bare external studies, but from the standpoint of the relation they bear to the life of society. It was forgotten that to become integral parts of the child’s conduct and character they must be assimilated, not as mere items of information, but as organic parts of his present needs and aims – which in turn are social.

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