All Play and No Work

I had no clue what to write about this week until I watched the TEDxYouth talk by Seth Godin called “Stop Stealing Dreams.” Specifically, I got interested in writing when I heard Mr. Godin say “…if it’s work, they try to figure out how to do less. And if it’s art, we try to figure out how to do more.” I think this statement is obvious, but I also think it is something we overlook every day.

Maybe I am wrong in thinking art is similar to play, but in my mind it is very clear that when I view what I am doing as play I am 100% more willing to do it versus when I view it as work. When I say “art,” what I am picturing is something that is creative, thought provoking, and often times fun, which to me resembles play. For example, when I am working on my literature review for my thesis I view reading journal articles as a chore. They are interesting, no doubt, but in my mind there are other things I would rather be doing. On the other hand, when I have free time and I am able to do something else, a lot of times I will choose to read journal articles, but this time I am reading them for pleasure! This time, it is as if I am sitting down in front of my computer ready to play video games, but in reality I am doing the exact same thing as what I pictured as “work” before. This time, I am not limited to the viewpoint of “what will be useful to put in my dissertation,” but rather I am able to think freely about what it is I am reading and I can let my mind make many more connections to other concepts that I would usually shut out.

It is clear that we like to do things that we are not supposed to be doing at the time. If I know that I should be reading these papers in order to retain information to write for my dissertation, it will be a long, annoying day. But, if I am able to indulge myself on those same papers, then the day could not go slow enough. Mr. Godin makes an amusing analogy during his talk between memorizing baseball history and stats to memorizing information we learn in school and I could not have said it better myself. Whether or not he intended this, what is even more ironic about his statement is that many people (myself included) do spend time memorizing stats and the history of sports because at the time we are doing it is a fun, creative process that we are just making up as we go along. I have spent countless hours going through pages of statistics for soccer players/teams so I can recite/recall the numbers at any give time as well as making graphical representations to understand the layout of the league at that moment in time because I enjoy going through those thought provoking exercises. It is funny because there are people that do that sort of stuff for a job, whereas I spend my time doing it out of pleasure.

I think I should state that I really do enjoy my PhD work (and academia in general), but I do classify it as work. There are times that I am able to view it as some sort of art, which makes my day that much better, but I think that I (and many others) could benefit from trying to view their work and/or schooling as art, or at least some sort of creative, thought provoking process, which may end up making it that much more enjoyable.

Playing the Blame Game

I could not stop myself from being annoyed when I read Nicholas Carr’s article regarding Google making us stupid. The idea that the Internet is “making” us unable to read longer or think deeply seems like a personal problem more than one shared by society at large. Carr points to a study conducted by the University College London where they found the subjects “bounced” from site to site and “skimmed” the material instead of reading it at length, but I could not disagree more with their interpretation of what this may mean. His (and their) take from this is that people are losing the ability to interpret text, but what I think is that our ability to interpret anything has not diminished, but rather requires much more sifting to get to what actually is worth interpreting.

This may sound harsh, but I think it is more of an issue with humans who like to try and find things other than themselves to blame for possible shortcomings. These may be intelligent people who are saying media is influencing our thinking process, but I think there has to be a willingness to take ownership when you know you should be doing something else (i.e. read an entire book!). Do not get me wrong, reading long books/papers is not in my top five favorite things to do with my time, but if/when I have to I find some way to read it because I know I need to read these words to extract what I want to learn from them.

So, there is the side where we can just disconnect ourselves, but on the same side of this coin is what Jason Farman’s article discussed, which was that just assuming our new connections are not contributing to meaningful and engaging interactions themselves and/or offering a lot of opportunities for collaborative, thought-provoking discussions is doing the Internet a disservice and is just straight up incorrect. We have plenty of examples of our modern media dependency being a negative impact on our daily lives, but I think (and Jason would as well) there are way more positive benefits from our connections that we can use and will have to use because this is not changing anytime soon.