Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Back in August Occassional blogging for the rest of the summer

Update June 17: I've decided to slow things down and not kill myself trying to meet the August deadline. Over the summer I'll pop up here, at spaceandculture or at lost in dissertation. But probably not all that often because there are other things to do too.

2 August, 2006
Last day for submission to the thesis supervisor of six (6) examination copies of Ph.D. theses for Fall graduation.

Until then you can find me lost in dissertation or occassionally at spaceandculture.

In other end-of-term news, I also invite you to check out some of my fourth year students' final projects in urban cultures, as well as what the 13 and 14-year olds had to say about our i txt, therefore i am mini-course.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Of play and fun and design and organisations and such

Given my own interests in play, I pay close attention as designers and businesses put more and more effort into "reclaiming" the productivity of play. Rational voices ask us not to continue belittling or trivialising play as something unproductive or childish: Just look at all the amazing work being done by amateurs and hobbyists! We are homo ludens! And we're making tonnes of stuff!

In a recent post on Design as Play, Ulla-Maaria writes that play deserves a place in design process, that play can be a resource for decision-making, that play is, in point of fact, "a legitimate form of work". In other words, she claims that play is productive and should be harnessed by organisations and businesses:

"It has become evident that organisations that wish to foster creativity and innovation in the 21st century need to reshape their current conceptions of production and consumption. Among other things, this includes putting play back into work, making designers play with users, and supporting creative play and voluntary development projects outside businesses."

Now several things strike me here. What if we actually belittle or trivialise play by making it productive? What if the great potential of play is actually to resist - to work against - these incessant calls for productivity, efficiency, legitimacy? I mean I can't be the only one wondering what people stand to lose when capitalist production has access to their paid (work) and unpaid (leisure) labour?

You see, I'm not at all certain that I want play to be invaded, colonised, appropriated, legitimated, administered or regulated. I'm not sure I want it to be organised.

I remember at Ubicomp 2003 a panel asking Can Ubicomp Come Out to Play? During the discussion, Barry Brown - who also does really great work on the intersections between technology and geography - pointed out the simple but brilliant point that leisure play is non-productive in one crucial way: the means are often more important than the ends. Bill Gaver also advocated non-utilitarian play (which I've never quite been able to reconcile with playful design and designing for play or the rumour that he doesn't like people playing the wrong way with his cultural probes).

Going further back and crossing disciplines, Cedric Price's Fun Palace was to be a "laboratory of fun" - a place not just in which to play productively, but to have fun:

"Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky."

In contrast, the kind of utilitarian play that finds so much favour in organisational economics and politics is always already productive and profitable. Of course there is nothing inherently problematic with this; working for the advantage or benefit of something or someone in particular can be quite positive. But the sense of profit tied to organsational production also requires that the value acquired exceeds the value expended. It's a game in which competition and mastery are rewarded, and where the end result is more important than how we get there. In this scenario, play is only productive insofar as it can generate profit or, as the current language would prefer, as long as it helps us be innovative. To innovate simply means to introduce novelties or create new things - but what is the organisational value of the new, the innovative? Why competitive advantage, of course! Progress! Growth!

But nowhere in all this talk of play and innovation do I see anything substantial that I can describe as fun. Ulla-Maaria talks about play as "excitement, joy, and the feeling of freedom and self-development" and those are all wonderful things. But 'fun' involves diversion, trickery, and ridicule too. It isn't serious and it messes things up. Fun is something we have, as well as do.

Gadamer warns English-speakers not to confuse play with fun, and in Seduction, Baudrillard writes:

"Obviously, the ludic cannot be equated with having fun. With its propensity for making connections, the ludic is more akin to detective work. More generally it connotes networks and their mode of functioning, the forms of their permeation and manipulation. The ludic encompasses all the different ways one can 'play' with networks, not in order to establish alternatives, but to discover their state of optimal functioning."

This is the kind of productive play that organisations stand to benefit from - not you or me having our own fun. Now that doesn't mean we can't or won't have fun along the way. I'm just saying that not all play is fun, and when you get paid for playing, it becomes your work just as much as your work becomes play. And sometimes, while you're just having fun someone else is just waiting to profit from it. Of course You Too Can Profit From Having Fun! Just Look At What Happened With Ebay!

Yeah. It turned into a mall with "power sellers". Yay capitalism!

From the archives:
When collaboration becomes appropriation (Apr 06)
Promoting social, not individualist, ethics
(Jan 06)
Co-opting the DIY ethic
(May 05)
In favour of boredom
(Feb 05)
Seduction as play
(Dec 04)

Friday, May 5, 2006

Fallen Man

Meyerowitz's Fallen Man

Joel Meyerowitz
Fallen Man

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Tired and happy

So. Thirteen and fourteen year olds are like aliens. Pretty cool aliens, but aliens nonetheless. How could anyone be bothered by the kind of alien that border jumps when these creatures are allowed to roam freely amongst us?! It's a good thing that when they're cool they're super cool. I mean, there are a few students in my class this week who shine so fucking bright that all my fears for the future dissolve - it's comforting and joyous just to be around them. The whole group is alternately funny, inquisitive, withdrawn, clever, aggressive, comatose, sensitive, imaginative, confident, challenging, open, inspiring, critical, hopeless... Each of them contributes something unique to the shape, the feel, the very possibilities of our time together and I wouldn't change a thing.

PS. I now have confirmation from ladies age 13 to 43 that Mean Girls is scary true.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Reading: "a sense of belonging to herself"

"This is so sexy, precisely because it's Marilyn reading James Joyce's Ulysses. She doesn't have to pose, we don't even need to see her face, what comes off the photo is absolute concentration, and nothing is sexier than absolute concentration. There she is, the goddess, not needing to please her audience or her man, just living inside the book. The vulnerability is there, but also something we don't often see in the blonde bombshell; a sense of belonging to herself. It's not some playboy combination of brains and boobs that is so perfect about this picture; it is that reading is always a private act, is intimate, is lover's talk, is a place of whispers and sighs, unregulated and usually unobserved. We are the voyeurs, it's true, but what we're spying on is not a moment of body, but a moment of mind. For once, we're not being asked to look at Marilyn, we're being given a chance to look inside her."

Jeanette Winterson in Solitary pleasures -- female writers choose their favourite pictures of women reading

Update 6 May, 2006

Jean wonders if in this image of Marilyn reading we are still being asked to witness "a moment of mind". My short answer: no way! My long answer: In a picture that draws the eye to her cleavage, it's difficult to see Marilyn as a whole body, let alone as a mind. (Not that the two should be separated.) The appeal of the photo relies on our acknowledgement that boobs and brains don't go together. I get the feeling that we're being encouraged to smile and say "How sweet...She can read too!" And I very much want to resist that. If Marilyn is so engrossed in the book that the voyeur is given full reign, she loses the sense of self-possession that Winterson sees and I admire, and I'm not sure I want her to be so (self?) absorbed or oblivious to the world around her that the (fe/male?) gaze cannot touch her.

Kristine Steenbergh also has some excellent thoughts on this and more in
The gender of reading and The gender of reading (2).

L'Arlésienne: Madame Joseph-Michel Ginoux (Marie Julien, 1848–1911) Although she sidesteps the possibility of Marilyn's intellect by taking up with Monica Ali's comments on L'Arlésienne - Van Gogh's portrait of Madame Joseph-Michel Ginoux - I cannot disagree with this:

"What I like about this picture is that she is not 'lost in the book'. She is thinking her own thoughts, triggered - perhaps - by what she has just read. I imagine she's read something with which she disagrees and she's formulating her response internally. The way she's resting her head on her hand suggests that she's unsure of her position; it's being tested. The book engages rather than confirms her intellect."

But still, what intrigues me about the photos of Marilyn is that we are being asked to confirm whether or not it is even possible that such a sexual icon could have an intellect. In the comments at earmarks we're also pointed to an interview with Richard Brown on Marilyn reading Joyce:

"I wrote to Eve [Arnold] wondering really how posed this photograph was, whether Marilyn herself was a serious reader of Ulysses, whether she had time to read Ulysses, what kind of reading of Ulysses she made. Eve responded very interestingly that it wasn't by any means just a prop that was put there for the photograph. It was a copy of a book that Marilyn had borrowed from a friend and was in the process of reading. But she didn't read it sequentially, beginning at the beginning and going through to the end. She read it in episodes. She dipped into places from time to time where fancy took her to different moments in the book. It occurred to me, thinking about that, that is the way we should all read Ulysses. That is certainly something I tell my students when we begin to read Ulysses in class..."

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