Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

7. Public Space

  • This chapter starts with the story of taverns, which are public places where people can gather to enjoy leisure time and share information. They also served as a place where movements could form and fester. The Boston Tea Party, for example, was planned at a tavern. They have also feed illicit behavior. In Roman times they were spaced fifteen or so miles apart, which allowed people to travel Roman roads throughout the Roman Empire.
  • Coffee houses followed with the first opened in London in 1652. They catered to men and attracted the journalist class. Lloyd’s of London, the giant insurance company, was founded at a coffee house. As some coffee houses decorated the premisses with many artifacts, they lead the way to the formation of the first museums. Department stores would follow. Coffee may not have been a miracle drug, but its cultural impact was nothing shot of miraculous.
  • The final part of this chapter is devoted to nature tourism. Until the 18th century, the outdoors was viewed as something to tame or navigate for a specific purpose. Thanks to visionary artists, poets, and scientists, it became a place to visit so as to enjoy its beauty. Public zoos became a place where you could visit the world’s creatures without leaving town. In the 20th century, amusement parks came into being and now represent a $50 billion dollar business in the US alone. Cities also focused on expanding parks such as Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City.

Conclusion

  • Our lives are surrounded by institutions designed to bring us happiness. Amusement has to count as one of the undeniable achievements of civilization. How odd is it that slacking off would set off so many commercial and scientific aftershocks. The pleasure of play is understandable. The productivity of play is harder to explain. We are drawn to novel experiences and we like games because they turn out differently every time. Toys and games are the prelude to serious ideas. If you are worried about what will happen when machines start thinking for themselves, you might better worry about what will happen when they start to play.

Steven Johnson

  • Johnson is the author of nine books, largely on the intersection of science, technology, and personal experience. He has also co-created three influential web sites: the pioneering online magazine FEED, the Webby Award-winning community site, Plastic.com, and most recently the hyperlocal media site outside.in. A contributing editor to Wired, he writes regularly for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and many other periodicals. Johnson also serves on the advisory boards of a number of Internet-related companies, including Medium, Atavist, Meetup.com, Betaworks, and Patch.com.
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