Work, Play, and Civilization

In The Hacker Ethic, Pekka Himanen critiques personal development books (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People et. al.), and contrasts the values of the protestant ethic with those of his hacker ethic. One of these protestant1 values is that one should be goal-oriented. It occurs to me that this is the key difference between work and play. If you stop playing half way through, the play is in no sense a failure or not any less valuable. He describes how hackers like to play and experiment. This also makes me think of the old saying that life is about the journey, not the destination. So then life is about the play, not the work. I like that.

For some reason the clarity of this explanation makes me think of Robert Kaplan in The Ends of the Earth, where he suggests that the difference between the first and the third world is maintenance. Switzerland, which maintains everything and is nothing if not civilized, certainly seems to back this up. Sometimes when I see a public building or space here that is still in use but is nevertheless being allowed to decay and go to ruin, I think of this and wonder how soon we may fall from the arms of civilization.


1 Himanen uses “protestant work ethic” as a label for many of the values of our society; it is no comment on modern religion.