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Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.

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Archive for June, 2012

Structured play of our generation

My friend Sarah, who is going through a very public third life crisis (turning 30), put up a wonderful post on “structured play for grown-ups.”

According to her friend, structured play is what many of us have been doing in our 20s, and it’s “enjoying life and having adventures while making sure it looks good on our CVs.”

I think this is indicative of our generation. As I wrote in the past under “The mark of our generation,” we don’t want the same as our parents, who lived stable lives and chased stable careers. At the same time, we still do want some security, and the sense of achievement is what has been providing us that.

Will many of us continue the structured play into the future? I wonder this these days, seeing many of my friends get married and start families. I think you can pursue structured play for life, but what you play with changes. It gets much more difficult to jump around countries year in and year out when you have a family, but I recently met an Ultimate Frisbee player from the U.S. who decided to move to Germany as a family for few years to have the international experience. I think stable careers are a thing of the past and like it or not, people will keep changing jobs to satisfy their ever shortening attention spans.

What I’ve been doing can be explained as structured play as well, although I think I’ve kept some kind of continual thematic thread through my adventures in my 20s, even if most of my life shifts were unplanned. My philosophy is a little different:

Do what interests me at the moment while making sure that I don’t jeopardize my future in doing so.

And I plan to keep living life this way, in a continual cycle of prototypes.

Is structured play all about minimizing risk? Yes and no.

I wrote above that structured play does give us a sense of security, but it’s nothing more than that, a sense. Risk is an opinion. It differs from people to people. I once met a serial entrepreneur from Paris who believed that starting a company is no riskier than working 9-5 jobs. In his opinion, a job in a company could become obsolete and disappear just as easily as a start-up company failing, and at least when you’re your own boss, you have control over your fate. Fifteen years ago, studying journalism would have seemed much safer than learning some html and joining a web company. The future is inherently unpredictable.

So what will happen to all the structured players? Of course I have no idea. However, I do believe that there will always be jobs for smart flexible people who can adapt, and good structured players are just that. At the same time, the future could just as equally be about specialized skills and deep expertise developed over years of experience. If so, many of us may regret all the years we spent in our 20s chasing their interests of the moment. I know plenty of people who would think structured play is an incredibly risky endeavor.

In the end, structured play isn’t genius or a crutch. It’s a way of life many of us have come to pursue given the existing circumstances, a world of limitless opportunities with incredible mobility, social, professional, and geographical.

(This post is a semi-response to Sarah’s original post, which raised the questions about structured play being risk and genius or crutch)

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With all the social and recommendations, can we still be ourselves?

The internet, globalization, and increasingly cheap manufacturing have created a world with incredible number of products, shelves, and choices. In response to the daunting amount of ways we can design our lives, we’ve also designed myriads of platforms where we can collect each other’s opinions on the choices we can make.

Looking for a book or basically any non-consumable product? Amazon has millions of reviews and ratings from which you can base your decision.

Wanting a good restaurant for a date this evening? Just see what people have to say on Yelp, Qype (if you’re European), tabelog (if you’re Japanese).

Fancy a movie after your date? Look at what people are saying about the new blockbuster on IMDb.

Searching for a hotel and a museum for your next holiday? Ask the thousands of travelers who came before you on Tripadvisor.

Don’t know what to read on the New York Times website? Just look at the most e-mailed articles.

In a world with increasing choices and increasing ability to be more unique with those choices we make, we’ve become increasingly shy about making those choices ourselves. When the long tail opened up, we’re trying our hardest to swim up to the head.

Why are we doing this?

Sociologists and anthropologists would argue that this is because humans are inherently social beings and that we have the need to feel part of the group. Unlike some animals, we operate in herds and we do things to belong to the herd.

I would argue that we are raised to believe that there are good and bad, better and worse, and best and worst choices. With such a way of thinking, we are scared of making the wrong choices and will look for ways to make ourselves believe that we are making the right choices.

No matter the underlying theory, the consequences are clear:

Polarization is human nature. While we like to believe in equality and equal distribution, we act in a way that is against it.

Independent choices and thoughts are scary. We say “be different,” but we inherently don’t want to.

All this, of course, isn’t new with the internet. We’ve always had friends from whom we can gather opinions, magazines in which we can read reviews, and advertisements from which we can deduce what everyone is thinking about. It’s just that the internet is taking it to another level.

What will you do in such a world? And what future technologies in the future will aid us in being even more of the pack?

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