the fourth man - Homo Somniens

it's been about ten days since John Seely Brown addressed a diverse audience at the Civil Service College, Singapore, on the topic of A new culture of learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a world of constant change.

the talk was followed by a lively question-and-answer session, during which questions and comments were contributed primarily by members of the audience from outside the technology-in-education and learning sciences communities. the ensuing interactions between JSB and the audience were ably mediated by Prof David Hung.

speaking personally, i could not help feeling that JSB and his interactants were often talking past each other, rather than to each other. many of the interactants used the word 'play' in their questions, but not necessarily in a similar way that JSB might have been intending it.

for instance, a lady tried to draw the contrast between (JSB's favorite example of) the surfer-dudes and meeting targets at work - the point she was trying to argue for was that (and this is definitely debatable) with surfing, one can easily tell whether one is a success or not ("you either know how to surf or you don't") whereas whether one has met targets at work is a much more abstract notion.

setting aside the disservice she did to the months of toil that the young men in JSB's example had put in, and setting aside how an excessively outcome-driven work ethic (a) makes one forget that in many (if not most) endeavors, the journey is the learning, and (b) reduces expertise to a binary ("you either know how to surf or you don't"), the third aspect that such a worldview exposes is that in the minds of many people (who matter) 'play' is still contrasted with 'work'.

thus, in this vein, some people have tried to add the word 'serious' in their attempt to confer some legitimacy to their 'play'. others have bought into this message, and thus have come away with the 'understanding' that there are at least two types of 'play' - that which is serious and that which is (for want of a better word) frivolous.

in this framing, frivolous play is therefore something not to be encouraged as, it is - by definition - not directed to productive ends.

from the questions that were asked of JSB that day, many people in the audience had this 'understanding' of play.

time to go beyond Homo Ludens, perhaps?

because the other concept which JSB and his audience failed to develop adequate intersubjectivity about, was (and this was key to his talk, given its title) 'imagination'.

in the questions asked of JSB that day, none used the word 'imagination'; instead, it was substituted with 'imaginary'.

('imaginary' as in "you must be imagining it; come on, get real, get serious")

so here again, the hegemony of the 'serious' in the discourse of those who believe themselves au fait ("I hear what you're saying, JSB, and i agree with you… but… ")

children at play are extremely intentional, and - i would venture - adults too. it's just that too many adults have forgotten or ignored the intentionality of child's play.

so if Homo Sapiens, Homo Faber, nor Homo Ludens can come to the rescue, who then?

enter the fourth man - Homo Somniens - The Dreaming Man.

the Creation myth of the Aborigines talks about the Dreaming, and how the Dream dreams the Dreamer; ten days' ago, JSB talked about the 'networked imagination' as emerging from collective action.

plus ça change…

truth be told, the concept of a networked imagination has gained traction in popular media over the past fifteen years or so, most notably in Star Trek: Voyager's 'Waking Moments ', Christopher Nolan's Inception and in the Sanctuary episode 'Out of the Blue'. and, of course, the same concept would be familiar to anyone whose played an MMORPG or operated in a fictive world.

in fact, some have gone as far to say that fictive worlds such as Second Life have enabled networked imagination far greater than what Hollywood has itself been able to imagine.

free from the contested shackles of 'play', Homo Somniens, then, might leverage these and other instances from popular culture to help elevate the discourse beyond the distraction of what's serious (and what isn't), and that 'non-serious' play has only 'imaginary' benefits.

then again, perhaps not.

bring on the daydreaming jokes :-)

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