History & Theory

Learning To Interact: Cybernetics and Play

History & Theory
04 Oct, 2018

Learning To Interact: Cybernetics and Play

with Timothy Stott
Lecturer in Art History and Visual Culture
Dublin School of Creative Arts, Dublin Institute of Technology

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

About the History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series

The History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series brings to campus leading humanities scholars working on issues of media transition and technological emergence. The series promotes new, interdisciplinary approaches to questions about the uses, meanings, causes, and effects of rapid or dramatic shifts in techno-infrastructure, information management, and forms of mediated expression. Presented by the Berkeley Center for New Media, these events are free and open to the public.


September 12 | 6:30 — 8:00 PM | 112 Wurster Hall
Architectural Intelligence
Molly Wright Steenson, Carnegie Mellon University
In partnership with the Department of Architecture

October 4 | 5:00 — 6:30 PM | BCNM Commons, 310 Moffitt Library
Learning To Interact: Cybernetics and Play
Timothy Stott, Dublin School of Creative Arts, Dublin Institute of Technology


Mar 20 | 5:00 — 6:30 PM | 310 Banatao Auditorium, Sutardja Dai Hall
Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism
Safiya Noble, University of Southern California
Co-sponsored by the CITRIS Policy Lab

Apr 03 | 5:00 — 6:30 PM | BCNM Commons, 340 Moffitt Undergraduate Library
The Human Computer in the Stone Age: Technology, Prehistory, and the Redefinition of the Human after World War II
Stefanos Geroulanos, New York University

Previous Next