“I can write my name but I can’t spell the letters.” Words by Joseph Simas, “Kinderpart,” 1989, design by Meredith Eliassen, 2016.

If a folkway is defined as a way of thinking or acting shared by members of a group as part of their common culture, then childhood is the means for accessing common culture. Children are vectors of imaginary landscapes within adult societal constructs. Children naturally explore, experiment, and create opportunities to test and expand boundaries within familial and community contexts. Original play allows children to holistically experience events that involve a certain degree of risk and failure to provide opportunities to learn and develop knowledge and skills needed to survive as adults engaged with society. For instance play jumping into and over puddles can test a child’s physical attributes as well as properties of the physical world. Likewise, childhood offers the potential to choose a simple vessel portal for imaginative play in order to explore its possibilities.


“Media as an extension of the human hand,” conceptual drawing by Meredith Eliassen, 2016

The cell phone can now be an interactive medium for child’s play and entertainment in an increasingly secular world. As folklorist, we can see with the lens of media ecology that this little device (like a play doll or ball of earlier days) has become an extension of the child or teenager’s arm and hand. Therefore, we can ask as with other media:

  • Does this device structure what we can see and say and, therefore, do?
  • Does this device assign to us roles to play? And then insist upon our playing them?
  • Does this “smart” device explicitly specify what we are permitted to do and what we cannot do?
  • Does this device offer half-concealed implicit and informal specifications that compel us assumption that what we are dealing with merely a machine and not a highly-corporate media environment?

When mass-produced toys create total-entertainment-experiences, society can loose ecosystems where holistic inner-imaginary landscapes flourish. Although folklorists will adapt to this technologist for studying First World childhood, we may need to head for the Cloud[s] to find our fodder for studying the real or ordinary lives of children. Media ecology surfaces roles that media compel us to play. Media ecology will continue to spotlight how emerging media structures the semantics of what we see and how media informs how we feel and act as we approach the gateway to the future with our eyes, ears, and hands wide open. In the coming weeks, I will explore the transitions of earlier media in this blog to identify areas that might be considered when asking the question: Is childhood at risk?

Here is a recent article from the Washington Post: And everyone saw it… by Jessica Contrera

To learn more about media ecologist go to the Media Ecologist Association.