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Data, Technology, and the Future of Play by Meghan Athavale

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Chapter 1. Data, Technology, and the Future of Play

Enforced learning will not stay in the mind. So avoid compulsion and let your children’s lessons take the form of play.

Plato, The Republic

Through play, many species’ young acquire the necessary skills to navigate their world. Play is how they learn, make mistakes, and establish social and cultural norms. According to Thomas Henricks, in his essay “The Nature of Play,” “Compared to those moments when people are virtually prisoners of their daily routines, people at play are said to have broken free to conjure new possibilities of being and, even more importantly, to test the implications of those possibilities in protected forms of behavior.”

The last half century has seen the evolution of the computer from a monolithic counting machine to a ubiquitous network of small, programmed devices. Processors became cheaper and connectivity became universal. Along the way, toys also got smart. Today’s $40 Furby has four times the processing power as the 1960’s Apollo Moon Lander. Moore’s law explains that an increase in accessibility and decrease in cost leads to an exponential rise in all things electronic year over year. Cheaper, more accessible technologies have filled the so-called need to enhance our productivity and quicken our communication, but technological toys have not actually proven themselves to be more educational, more efficient, or more entertaining than “dumb” building blocks, skipping ropes, or even the timeless ...

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