‘Go outside and play’ Zuckerberg tells daughter

Small wonders: Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth soared to $72.2 billion in July.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has welcomed his second child into the world with a simple wish: that she takes time “to smell all the flowers”. Should we all spend more time playing?

In 2015, when Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s first daughter, Max, was born, they wrote her a letter in which they promised to create “a world better than ours today,” and pledged $45 billion to make it happen.

This week, their letter to their second daughter, August, was much shorter. “Childhood is magical,” they told her. “Don’t spend it worrying too much about the future.” Instead, they advised her to “go outside and play.”

For the author Steven Johnson, this might be the most important advice a person could give. In his most recent book, Wonderland, he argues that history is not just about wars and elections. It is also about playing.

He explains that, because play often involves “breaking rules and experimenting”, it can inspire world-changing ideas.

Take The Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanisms, written by the engineer al-Jazari in 1206. Its detailed designs are a precursor to inventions like the internal combustion engine, which revolutionised the world 600 years later.

But al-Jazari’s book is filled with “objects of amusement and mimicry,” says Johnson. They include robotic musicians, and a giant clock shaped like an elephant.

He argues that history is filled with such examples. Even Facebook, Zuckerberg’s own world-changing invention, was born out of an online game.

Game on

Johnson is right, say more playful souls. The best ideas come from being curious, letting your imagination wander, and mucking around without worrying about making mistakes. We should all take life a little less seriously.

We live in a serious world, respond others. Zuckerberg and Chan’s letter to Max spoke about this: “We have a moral responsibility to all children,” they told her. Those lives will not be improved by play alone — it will take hard work and determination.

You Decide

  1. Should teenagers and adults spend more time playing?


  1. In Wonderland, Johnson defines play like Brian Eno defines culture: as “all the things we don’t have to do.” Write your own definition of “play” in a single sentence.

Some People Say...

“You will find the future wherever people are having the most fun.”

Steven Johnson

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
August’s birth was announced on Facebook on Monday. Her sister Max was born in 2015. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has invested $3 billion in scientific research. It aims to cure or prevent all diseases by 2100.
What do we not know?
How effective the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will be. We also do not know how far Johnson’s definition of “play” has truly transformed the world.

Word Watch

$45 billion
At the time, this represented 99% of the couple’s Facebook shares, which they pledged to donate to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative over the course of their lives. The initiative is a philanthropic company.
Ismail al-Jazari, a Muslim inventor and mathematician, lived from 1136 to 1206 — the end of a period of history known as the “Islamic Golden Age”.
Online game
Facemash, which Zuckerberg invented before Facebook in 2003, invited his fellow Harvard students to rate the attractiveness of their peers.

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