Some More Play (Symposium on Configuring the Networked Self)

You may also like...

5 Responses

  1. Julie Cohen says:

    Well, if you had told me the boyish Canadian ice cream-eater (who looked about 15 years old) would become the leading force behind The Identity Trail, I’m not sure I would have believed you, either!

    I remember that talk; I remember thinking the “automation of virtue” formulation was important (see also my own “Pervasively Distributed Copyright Enforcement” and Dan Burk & Tarleton Gillespie’s essay in a similar vein) but that I didn’t find the Aristotelian virtue framework entirely congenial – not, at least, without hybridizing it with the “posts.” Leaving the “post” question out of it, though, I do think the example entirely apt re the kind of work that play and semantic discontinuity prescribe. As I said in my comment on Val’s post, we should look to Canada for inspiration more often.

  2. Frank Pasquale says:

    Ian, I really like the point on not “automating virtue.” I can just imagine Radiohead’s “Fitter, Happier, More Productive” as the theme song of a perfectly controlled net. The story of Jonathan Coulton backs up your point. In short, he makes his songs available without DRM, but really encourages his fans to pay. He mocked the MegaUpload raid with a sarcastic tweet along the lines of: “Wow, after that site’s gone, the money’s just rolling in, isn’t it?” Fuller versions of his story here:

    Coulton succeeded, not by controlling and monitoring his audience, but by creating a community. He’s made a decent living doing so, though I imagine he’d welcome more traditional modes of compulsory licensing and royalties if his creative energies ebb.

  3. Paul Ohm says:

    Ian, I love the Autopia metaphor, but perhaps I’m biased having spent part of my youth living a mile from the front gates of Disneyland, my summer playground.

    Your thoughts about driving remind me of what James Grimmelmann and I had to say in response to Zittrain’s book (, that a system can only provide the opportunity for generativity if it constrains some choices while enabling others. Systems should not be maximally generative, they should be generative enough.

    In the same way, I can imagine architectures with such wide gaps that they begin to constrain rather than enable play. To extend your metaphor, I don’t enjoy trying to merge onto the 405 Freeway in Santa Monica, because of the number of lanes, interminable traffic, and high percentage of aggressive drivers. This is probablya better form of “driving” than Autopia, but it seems like too much. To better engage in the “play” of driving, I’d prefer smaller roads and higher speeds, and I think I’d even enjoy circling around an “artifical” racetrack. So maybe it’s not just the size and location of the gap that encourages play; maybe we need to consider lots of different variables in addition.

  4. Julie Cohen says:

    Having read this again, I can’t resist noting Google’s recent venture: the driverless car.

    So is this just Autopia dressed up in sexy packaging – an iPad for the open road? I’m conflicted here. I suspect many people will resist this innovation, precisely because they experience driving as a form of play. And since I, like Paul, grew up driving on Southern California’s freeways (though the Pasadena Freeway was and is my playground of choice), I can relate. But I also recognize important questions about the wisdom of privileging driving and car ownership on an increasingly hot and crowded planet, so perhaps this is an area in which the preferred forms of play need to evolve. Which is ok, I guess – the bigger concern is that the ability to play in the spaces where one lives doesn’t evolve out of existence.

  5. Deven Desai says:


    Side note: I always thought becoming was a Dilthey/Heidegger issue more than Nietzsche.

    On a more focused note: Autopia was also in my backyard by L.A. terms. I loved it because I could play. It had enough give that I could let the car slam from side to side rather than avoiding the middle track, I could slow down and mess with my brother behind me, and I would try and ram his car if in front; for a time. Disney has altered the cars so that all of the above are more difficult to do. The track is wider, the cars slower, and the bumper car aspect is discouraged.

    So was there a play that was suitable for the venue? Do calls for child safety require some sort of training wheels for the Net? (I have argued for at least Web education a la driver’s ed in older posts). And when/where does society choose boundaries or what sorts of play to allow or not? Paul’s claim for generative enough begs this question.

    I think Julie’s book calls out the tensions about which and what boundary ought to be in place. In addition, I think that there is some sense that the current system fails to account for play by many within the system.

    In other words, I think that so far the boundaries are designed for large actors to play. It may be that we need to look at rules for a large number of small actors. So perhaps I am asking whether the liberal system is capable of such a project.