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Steven Johnson to discuss how ‘play made the modern world’

Playing into Week Three’s theme, writer Steven Johnson will speak at the 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, July 10, in the Amphitheater.

Johnson has written 11 books. Most recently, he published Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, which the New York Times wrote in 2016, “makes a swashbuckling argument for the centrality of recreation to all of human history.”

Wonderland chronicles how popular entertainment has developed over time and explores those who have helped shape it.

Steven Johnson

Johnson, who graduated from Brown University in 1990 as a semiotics major, told the New York Times in a 2016 interview that he and his classmates “were all very much immersed in media theory and poststructuralist philosophy … there was very little room in that world for science, particularly for science that wasn’t, in some fashion, being deconstructed.”

It was James Gleick’s book Chaos that “broke through those boundaries” for him, Johnson told the Times, and helped spark his interest in science-related writing.

Johnson also told the Times that he was an “avid” reader growing up, and revealed that when given the option to visit a playground or a bookstore, he would choose the latter.

Johnson has written about the origin of inventions like batteries and pencils, Joseph Priestley (a scientist friend of Thomas Jefferson’s), popular culture and a political philosophy he calls “peer progressivism.”

He also hosted the six-part PBS series “How We Got to Now” and the podcast “American Innovations.”

In January, Johnson published “Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble” in the New York Times Magazine. In the piece, he discusses “the Cycle,” a term he derives from Tim Wu’s book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. The “Cycle” Wu and Johnson refer to is that of “all major information technologies,” which inevitably wind up “in the hands of multinational corporations fixated on maximizing shareholder value.”

In the article, Johnson defends the blockchain, though he acknowledges that it “may seem like the very worst of speculative capitalism right now” and is “demonically challenging to understand.”

Johnson’s next book is slated for release Sept. 4. Farsighted: How We Make The Decisions That Matter The Most, is about “the art and science of life’s most difficult choices,” according to Johnson’s website.

“My hope is that you will come out of reading the book with a practice for making hard choices in your own life,” Johnson wrote on his website. “Whether those choices are personal, professional, or civic ones.”

Tags : 2018 Week ThreeSteven JohnsonThe Art of PlayWonderland: How Play Made the Modern World
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The author Kirby Davis

Kirby Davis covers visual arts for The Chautauquan Daily. The proud Clevelander is a rising senior and a journalism/American studies double major at Miami University in Ohio. When she’s not writing, Kirby is probably watching a movie, re-watching “Gilmore Girls” or brainstorming potential names for her future pet corgi.

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