Humanity has been inventing toward delight for a long time. Johnson began with 
a slide of shell beads found in Morocco that indicate human interest in 
personal adornment going back 80,000 years. He showed 50,000-year-old bone 
flutes found in modern Slovenia that were tuned to musical intervals we would 
still recognize. Beads and flutes had nothing to do with survival. They were 
art, conforming to Brian Eno’s definition: “Art is everything you don’t have to 
do.” It looks frivolous, but Johnson proposed that the pursuit of delight is 
one of the prime movers of history — of globalization, innovation, and 

Consider spices, a seemingly trivial ornament to food. In the Babylon of 1700 
BCE — 3,700 years ago — there were cloves that came all the way from Indonesia, 
5,000 miles away. Importing eastern spices become so essential that eventually 
the trade routes defined the map of Islam. Another story from Islamic history: 
when Baghdad was at its height as one of the world’s most cultured cities 
around 800 CE, its “House of Wisdom” produced a remarkable text titled “The 
Book of Ingenious Devices.” In it were beautiful schematic drawings of machines 
years ahead of anything in Europe — clocks, hydraulic instruments, even a 
water-powered organ with swappable pin-cylinders that was effectively 
programmable. Everything in the book was neither tool nor weapon: they were all 

Consider what happened when cotton arrived in London from India in the late 
1600s. Besides being more comfortable than itchy British wool, cotton fabric 
(called calico) could easily be dyed and patterned, and the democratization of 
fashion took off, along with a massive global trade in cotton and cotton goods. 
Soon there was an annual new look to keep up with. And steam-powered looms 
drove the Industrial Revolution, including the original invention of 
programmable machinery for Jacquard looms.

Consider the role of public spaces designed for leisure — taverns, coffee 
shops, parks. Political movements from the American Revolution (Boston’s Green 
Dragon Tavern) to Gay Rights (Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles) were fomented in 
bars. Whole genres of business and finance came out of the coffee shops of 
London. And once “Nature” was invented by Romantics in the late 1800s, 
nature-like parks in cities brought delight to urban life, and wilderness 
became something to protect.

Play invites us to invent freely.

—Stewart Brand <>

A linkable, illustrated version of this summary is on Medium 

The next SALT talk 
 is Jennifer Pahlka, “Fixing Government: Bottom Up and Outside In,” Wednesday, 
Feb. 1.
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