Games and Play
On New Year’s Eve, the postman delivered a copy of a new book from Bloomsbury, Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism. It contains my essay, “Games and Play: Being Human in the Universe of Technical Images”. To me, there has always been something a bit magical about print, some victory over human limitations, some kind of transportation time and space, transformation of speech and perception. There is satisfaction in seeing my text in print. There’s a pleasant sense of closure, too, for preparations began some three years ago.
The magic is tempered with doubts however. How can such an essay possibly “work”? How likely is it that a reader who might find it would realise that I’m trying to say something about being yourself? Such a reader would have to somehow break through the thickets of philosophical, theoretical language, past the forbidding look of a more or less academic text, past the barrier Flusser himself has become — a figure rather distant in time and space, mysterious, erudite, shape-changing, foreign. It’s true that there is a digital version too — potential readers can search by keyword or author or topic or even text snippet. It’s also true that a digital text can be chopped, mashed, mixed. As Jaron Lanier put it so clearly in the Preface to his fine book, You are Not a Gadget,
The vast fanning out of the fates of these words will take place almost entirely in the lifeless world of pure information. Real human eyes will read these words in only a tiny minority of the cases.
And yet it is you, the person, the rarity among my readers, I hope to reach. The words in this book are written for people, not computers.
I want to say: You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.
Lanier is a graceful, persuasive writer of coherent, whole books, and by quoting just a few sentences here, I’m doing him the very disservice he is resisting. But I still think he actually IS on my side. Even as confident insider, at ease in the “lifeless world of pure information,” he publishes books, in print, and seeks real, human readers.
My message, too, is ultimately about being somebody, somebody with the clarity and independence to see publishing, in fact languages, disciplines, media, and more as what Flusser calls games, that is, rule-bound exchanges between human beings which may be very, very important, but are not final or total or all encompassing. Because you are a human being, you can step outside and notice the rules, recognise the boundaries, realise when the game is playing you, and decide whether to continue or to find a different game. You, unlike machines, can play.