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The media ecology of play: A preliminary probe of childhood play in the digital age

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In this article, the authors argue that children today, because of the digital environment in which they are growing up, have much less opportunity to engage in forms of play that require direct face-to-face communication. Building upon some suggestions made by Neil Postman, the authors probe the media ecology of play and how it has been fundamentally reconfigured in the digital age. What does digital technology do and undo to the traditional experience of childhood play? How do traditional oral-based forms of play differ from play that is digitally mediated? What are some of the ideas embedded in the digital mediation of play that need to be teased out and more carefully considered? Finally, reflecting on their own work with children over the past four decades, the authors offer a pragmatic response that both parallels the emphasis placed by John Huizinga in his book Homo Ludens on the primacy of play in the evolution of culture and, at the same time, strongly reflects the view advocated by Neil Postman in his book Teaching As a Conserving Activity of creating a ‘thermostatic mechanism’ that would counterbalance the dominant presence of electronic media in the lives of children.

Keywords: Neil Postman; childhood; digital revolution; media ecology; play; technology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Media Arts Department, New Jersey City University 2: Educational Arts Team

Publication date: March 1, 2017

More about this publication?
  • EME explores the relationships between media, technology, symbolic form, communication, consciousness, and culture. Its scope is interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. Media ecology provides a rich philosophical, historical and practical context for studying our increasingly technological and mediated society and culture with an emphasis on historical context.
    Media ecology scholarship emphasizes a humanistic approach to understanding media, communication, and technology, with special emphasis on the ways in which we have been and continue to be shaped and influenced by our inventions and innovation. The Media ecology approach is predicated on understanding that media, symbols, and technologies play a leading role in human affairs, and function as largely invisible environments affecting the way we think, feel, act, and organize ourselves collectively.
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