Toy today, tool tomorrow

This is a repost of The toys of today, the tools of tomorrow, which I originally posted in April 2008.

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The toys of today, the tools of tomorrow

At the end of a brief history of human communication, Dave Gray of XPLANE gets to what he sees as the future of communications: visual communications.

Today, we are free once more. Paradoxically, now that everything has been reduced to zeros and ones, our only limit is our imagination. What’s interesting is that we continue to constrain ourselves to the grid, even when it is no longer necessary. The conventions of printing, which once liberated ideas by making them mass-producible, have now become a prison.

So what’s next? Watch the kids. In the 1970s we started playing video games, and although we didn’t know it at the time, we were learning how to interact with digital technologies. We were learning the hand-eye coordination skills we would need to operate the computers of the 1980s.

The toys of today are the tools of tomorrow: blogging, podcasting, photosharing, videoblogging – these are all early indicators. People are making their own movies and publishing their ideas to the world. With every passing year the technology gets cheaper and easier to use.

As Dave alludes to, we all learn how to use tools when we are young, by playing with them as toys. How many of you had toy trucks and played at construction. How about “play” carpenters? (I’m a guy, so please excuse the boy bias.) Using the “toys” of today is much the same, with one key difference being that the “toys” that kids play with are often the very same “tools” that adults use. (No plastic saw blades here!) This obviously presents some dangers, and how kids play with their digital “toys” needs to be watched, but it makes the process of gaining literacy go that much faster.

So next time someone asks you why you’re “playing around with those toys”, or why you let your kids spend so much time on the computer or playing (or designing!) video games, just tell them you’re not “playing”, you’re learning how to use the tools you’ll need to be successful tomorrow.

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This is as true, if not more so, today than just a year ago.  To Dave’s list above I would add Social Media in general as a “toy” that today’s kids are “playing” with that will become a very powerful tool for them in their future, and that many are actually using as a tool today.

In my experience as a rookie FIRST Robotics mentor, I was amazed at the extensive use of all types of social media by other mentors and, especially, of the kids involved in FIRST. In fact, the kids are using these tools in a way that most of the mentors (myself included) would likely never dream of.

By playing with the toys available to them, these kids are teaching us adults how we could – should – be using the incredible tools that are right at our fingertips.

One thought on “Toy today, tool tomorrow

  1. Your post reminds me of how my dad kept bothering me about being in front of computers every day while I was in college (major in Computer Science).

    He’s really furious about me playing game all the time, but the fact is, I was creating a website as my project and optimizing it. Funny that what I have learned back then now become my secret tools to earn decent income online.


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