Bruce Wilson, PhD
George Bernard Shaw said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” This may be an understatement. In the late 1930’s historian Johan Huizinga argued that play was the basis of all culture. Huizinga believed play was being suppressed with the ascendency of utility and technology efficiency as dominant goals. What does this portend for the ascendency of technology in 2022? Is play being suppressed even more today? Is life getting more serious and less and less playful? Are exponential increases in the psychological issues of anxiety and depression any indication that being playful is under threat?
“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” – Groucho Marx
We know that being more playful relieves stress, eases anxiety and tension, and improves mood. The social benefits of being more playful are also salient. Playfulness may defuse conflict, improve relationships, enhance teamwork, and promote bonding. Humor and being more playful has even been credited with the physical benefits of boosting our immunity, lowering stress hormones, decreasing pain, relaxing muscles, and assisting heart health.
Technology and Play Today
Research into the effects of technology on play today are concerning. The immediacy of technological interactions is having a direct impact on attention spans. Attention spans are lower due to the conditioned need for instant gratification. Carrie Fisher quipped: “Instant gratification takes too long.” We are moving into the edutainment era. That is, to learn we must also be entertained, otherwise we are bored.
“Me carrying a briefcase is like a hotdog wearing earrings.” -Sparky Anderson
A huge part of the tech world today is cybersecurity. This increased lack of privacy and added personal risk imparts the seriousness of the current status of playful technology. Harassment and bullying can put a real damper on one’s sense of safety and fun.
Another effect of increased technology use in society today is increased rates of depression. Numerous studies point to more time on screens equating to increased rates of depression, loneliness, anxiety, and as a cumulative result an increased number of suicides.
The Genius of Play
Play has power. The power to provide pure enjoyment. The power to unleash our imagination. The power to increase flexible and creative thought. The power to stop and enjoy the moment. The power to increase your happiness and well-being. The power to feel young-at-heart and free-spirited. The power to be unstructured and uninhibited. The power to, at least temporarily, be free of responsibility. The power to experience the unexpected.
“All right everyone, line up alphabetically according to your height.”
The genius of play is that it requires no genius, just time. And, this may be the real challenge. In the busy world we live in, how do we find the time? We cannot find the time we need to create the time. We need to allow play into our busy schedules. We renovate our homes, we detail our cars, we renew our insurance, we commit to our professional development, and yet we fail to rejuvenate ourselves through the invaluable dedication to be non-productive.
Being not Doing
To play fully we will need to focus more on just being and not doing. We will need to be in the moment more often and forego the urge to plan and have expectations or outcomes. Let your being be the doing. Resistance to the present moment is the source of much of our angst, frustration, anxiety, and depression. Take your focus from your head to your heart, and feel.