Learning To Interact: Cybernetics and Play

Lecture | October 10 | 5-6:30 p.m. | Moffitt Undergraduate Library, BCNM Commons, 340 Moffitt

 Timothy Stott, Dublin School of Creative Arts, Dublin Institute of Technology

 Berkeley Center for New Media

Play was, and remains, a social technology for the cybernetic age. Advocated by many as a humanist corrective to a technocratic and automated post-war society, play also expanded cybernetic ideas of interaction, feedback, and systems modelling into the social domain. From the late nineteen-fifties on, especially, cybernetics and play converged through games, toys, and interactive exhibitions.

On the one hand, exhibition spaces such as the Exploratorium, a ‘museum of art, science, and perception’, which opened in San Francisco in 1971 as a pedagogical experiment to supplement and update school education, provided learning spaces for children, where interactive technologies could be tested and normalised through play. Similarly, the seminal 1968 exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity, curated by Jasia Reichardt at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, offered a space where ‘people [could] lose their fear of computers by playing with them and asking them simple questions’. On the other hand, examples and theories of play often featured in the work of cyberneticians such as Gregory Bateson, Gordon Pask, and Stafford Beer, who wrote of play as a communicational and organisational activity and of toys as the artefacts of complex systems.

This talk will consider the shared history of play and cybernetics, where a generation of users were trained to the behavioural and cognitive repertoires required by interactive technologies, and which correlated modes of sociability, learning and governance that have become norms in the ongoing ‘ludification’ of culture.


About Timothy Stott

Timothy Stott is a historian of contemporary art and design, with a focus on play and games, systems theory and ecology, and the decorative and cognitive arts. He is Lecturer in Art History and Visual Culture at the Dublin School of Creative Arts, Dublin Institute of Technology. His monograph Play and Participation in Contemporary Arts Practices was published in 2015. In 2016, he was Visiting Research Fellow at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds. His talk at BCNM draws on material from his current book project, A Constructive Intelligence: Art, Design and Play After 1945. With Johanna Gosse (University of Idaho), he is also co-editing Expanding Systems Aesthetics: Art, Systems, and Politics since the 1960s. Further research can be found at http://dit.academia.edu/TimStott