A bit like Ryan before me, I’m going to be starting a new job soon that takes me out of the intimate daily work of language technology and puts me into the larger pond of academic technology in general. My new group takes a different approach to technology provisioning than my current one, which means I am in media res with a minor shopping adventure for new work devices and accessories. As the devices arrive, I need to spend time learning them in ways general and specific, and in doing so I have experienced uncomfortable feelings of guilt.
Thinking about this, I realized I was participating in the common cultural perception of technology devices as toys. This participation is compounded by my personal frugality (nothing in my home is ever the latest or close to it), my gender and my interest in avoiding being a stereotype (think of the overused phrase of “boys and their toys”), and the time of year (making these feel more like gifts than appropriate equipment).
As I reflected more, it seemed to me that the appropriate reaction to this control (or my perception of it) by a guilt society was to appropriate the term of toys and repurpose it in the context of appropriate learning behaviors. After all, if learning can root deeper when it is fun, then all objects and interactions that are a part of the learning process are toys. (A recent piece I wrote on language play explores the narrower example of language learning and antedates my reclamation of “toys”.) For me, reconceptualizing the learning process itself as (largely) acquiring the knowledge necessary to play appropriately with the toys of the trade and the perception necessary to probe* the fuzzy boundaries of domain-specific play opens up multiple new worlds of exploration and ways for me to teach or help teachers.
* Or, somewhat recursively, “to toy with”.