The Play Ethic and Sustainability

For a very long time now (since 2005 in fact), Pat Kane’s book, The Play Ethic has been on my Amazon Wishlist (hint, hint) along with several other books on Play for my PhD research into interactivity and play.

The Play Ethic by Pat Kane   Cradle to Cradle - by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

Having persuaded my brother that I really like books as birthday presents he sent me three at once, two of which were co-incidentally The Play Ethic and Cradle to Cradle: Re-making the way we make things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (those two are the links to Amazon’s catalogue by the way – I couldn’t recommend two purchases more). This led me to read them back-to-back and I realised what a set of connections there are between the two ways of thinking.

Kane’s Play-Ethic is a fascinating and well-researched literature review, Protestant work-ethic critique and manifesto for a new way of thinking and living. Cradle to Cradle is equally so – a manifesto for a new way of thinking and living as well as a rejection of the past 250 years or so of the industrial society. Both require an enormous about-turn in thinking as the only possible way to combat the ever growing stresses and strains on society and the planet. Both speak of abundance – Kane in terms of the ‘player’ always finding joy and energy in life (and work when need be) and McDonough and Braungart in terms of thinking like nature. They use the example of a cherry tree which produces more blossoms and fruit that it ‘needs’ but that contributes more to local ecosystem than it uses.

Wase = Food = Sustainability.

It’s exactly this sustainability which is also required from our working (read: waking) lives. The current trend towards ever-increasing work hours and less ‘play time’ is unstainable and we’re already seeing the cracks in the system and experiences them personally. I know that ‘downtime’ (and by that I don’t just mean leisure time) is crucial to allowing the space to create connections between ideas and come up with new ones. In short, ‘creativity’ – to invoke that over-used word.

The drive for ‘efficiency’ (a product of the Industrial Revolution) that McDonough and Braungart speak against would have that downtime labeled as ‘inefficient’. They describe the difference between eco-efficient systems (things that are ‘less bad’) and eco-effective (things that actually add to their environment positively – think cars that clean the air as you drive, buildings that generate more energy than they use or products that benefit the environment when you throw them away). An ‘efficient’ cherry tree would have just one blossom and one fruit (that of course would hopefully turn into another tree). There’s not much fun or play in that for starters, nor would the resources used to grow the tree be very well returned to the local environment.

Now think of the ‘efficiencies’ of the modern workplace – do more with less. Work harder, make it cheaper, make it more efficient. Never mind the quality. I’m sure the stresses that places on people are quite well know to most of you. Yet think of a time (maybe not in paid work) when you worked on something because you really loved doing it, because you felt nurtured and fulfilled. For a start it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ in the way that we have come to know it (i.e., stuff we don’t like doing and that people have to pay us off to do). It feels more like play and it has a whole load of positive knock-on effects in your life, society and culture that efficiency rubs out. Basically it’s a sustainable way of living your life instead of one that sucks all your energy dry and spits you out the other end of the factory.

Both books have made me radically re-think the shape and (dis)organization of my own institution, in what shape universities might be in five, ten or fifty years and re-thinking education (in particular design education). I also found it inspiring that the two areas I’m interested and involved in (play and interactivity, sustainable design and ethics ) have so many connections. I’ll post more about that soon.

You Tube Advertising Dollars

Some enlightening “theoretical” figures being bounced around in Endgaget’s series about You Tube’s potential for generating revenue. Clicker contributor, Stephen Speicher, even came up with a new metric – “Eyeball Minutes” (but are these adjusted to account for those with only one eye?)

I have written quite often about this previously (see related links below), in particular the relationship to traditional TV shows and advertising. So it’s great to see some figures, however theoretical, being produced about how this might work. Speicher, once again, uses Judson Laipply’s “Evolution of Dance” clip as an example (my goodness, Judson must be pretty happy right now – 15,529,686 downloads as of today and it’s not even that funny):

Just for fun let’s do one other comparison. Let’s look at ad revenue:

Again we will use “Evolution of Dance” as a comparison. If you still don’t think that micro-content could be a macro business, consider the following. Six minutes of network content would be accompanied by 1 minute and 30 seconds of advertising. For a show with 15 million viewers, expect an ad rate in the neighborhood of 200k per 30 second slot. That’s right; “Evolution of Dance” would garner 600k dollars in ad revenue if calculated with basic “network math.

Check the all three stories for more – it’s an interesting read.

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Warner Bros. to distribute via BitTorrent

I can’t believe I missed this story last week, but Warner Bros. have finally started to get their head around the idea that BitTorrents are the most efficient way to distribute large files online and have announced they’ll start seeding their movies when released onto DVD. So, only about three years too late and after trying to shut down most BitTorrent servers for ages.

From Yahoo’s story:

“If we can convert 5, 10, 15 percent of the peer-to-peer users that have been obtaining our product from illegitimate sources to becoming legitimate buyers of our product, that has the potential of a huge impact on our industry and our economics,” said Kevin Tsujihara, president of the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group.

It’s exactly what lots of people have been banging on about for some time. I would have loved to have listened into the conversations at Warner Bros. about this because I imagine there are some very smart people there and some old-guard dunderheads who wrangled over this for a while. There’s not much mention of how they plan to avoid piracy or whether they have given up on this to a certain degree. But here’s the whiff of compromise:

The studio also will sell permanent copies of films and TV shows online that can be burned to a backup DVD, although the copy will only play on the computer used to download the film and not on standard DVD players.

That’s pretty lame. It fails to recognise the increasing trend of people networking their computers/media centres with their AV set-ups or use the computer as an entertainment ‘pip’e into the house before then deciding where they can play it. It’s like buying a DVD and being told you can only play it in the bedroom, but not in your lounge. And in what way is that a guard against piracy? Anyone really interested in large scale DVD burning style piracy will go a different route (and almost certainly any DRM will be cracked in no time).

The lawyers obviously got their “marketing point” into the story too:

Studios believe that offering reasonably priced legal alternatives will be preferable to downloading files that could contain viruses or poor quality copies of films.

This is always the “scary internet” tactics that copyright lawyers use. It’s akin to telling people smoking is bad for them – people who do it know the risks. In general files I’ve seen tend to be excellent – they’re simply rips from a DVD and quality certainly isn’t an issue (which is why the studios are so paranoid about digital files in the first place).

Ultimately its good to see a major studio take a step in the right direction (and entertaining to see BitTorrent’s Web site suddenly go all glossy and corporate – even the .org site is all pseudo Web 2.0 styled) – when did that happen? I must have been sleeping…)

The article does make a common factual error though:

Last year, BitTorrent agreed to remove links to pirated versions of movies from its Web site.

I’m reasonably certain that BitTorrent never had any illegal versions of movies on its Web site, that’s the whole point, a torrent file is just checksum information, not the actual data file itself. That’s why it’s been so hard for the MPAA to get a handle on a roving swarm. Smells like lawyer talk to me.