CfP Professionals Conference write-up

Student blogger Chantal Elden attended the Future is Now! - Professionals Conference on Wednesday 21 October. Read her summary of the fully packed and inspiring day below.

The technological imaginary

The future is now. We live in a time where information is coming at us from all angles, almost at all times. The other side of the world is at your fingertips, and we’ve got all sorts of new possibilities to create through digital platforms. Indeed, as Warren Buckleitner said during the conference: this could be the most exciting time of innovation humanity has ever known. And even if it’s not the most exciting, it’s certainly is exhilarating, fascinating and confusing.

Virtual reality is a good example of this. As David Kleeman has made clear in his speech, VR is not a faraway, fantasy-like reality, but right here and now. All sorts of initiatives for VR and augmented reality are ready for takeoff, like Pokémon Go, the Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard. The technological means are finally there – though there is still a lot of progress to be made – and the possibilities for children’s learning and entertainment must be explored, as well as critically assessed.

Yet, we must not forget that the future is not just now, but also yesterday. Indeed, as Imar de Vries has made clear, that is what the ‘technological imaginary’ is all about. Dreaming about how technology can make our lives better is a historical exercise. It’s a utopian-like longing for an ideal world that has existed all through the history of mankind. Even virtual reality, which intuitively seems so futuristic, is a historical dream, and not in any way something new. One would only have to think back to the sensorama and the old View-Master toys to realize this.    

And then, of course, there is the actual future: the possibilities of tomorrow, the results of our choices today. In a world where very soon one third of the entire world population will have a smartphone; in which YouTube stars reign and children cannot imagine a time without the internet, there are important questions to ask. What do modern children want and need; what new kinds of entertainment can we provide them with? Are new ways to play always better ways to play? And how can we create coherence and success in a world where all entertainment products are immediately transmedia, and the boundaries between brands are blurring?

If this year’s conference has made anything clear, it is that the idea of transcending existing categories and boundaries should be central in the answers to all these questions. This does not just concern technologies and genres. As Stacey Matthias has asserted, children of today are embracing difference, and we should strive to represent the entirety of all their lives. Separate toys and stories for boys and girls do not make any sense anymore – or rather have never made sense at all. Children from minority backgrounds should not longer be overlooked, and practice has shown that themes that entertainment industries have hesitated to put forward in the past, can and should be implemented in the children’s media products of tomorrow, as well as pertinent problems like global warming and pollution.

Lastly, to end with a quote by Gary Pope, it is our challenge to create “something risky, that doesn’t follow a set path.” Because that is what play is all about – what children are all about. Experimenting, fantasizing and learning through trial and error. That is not just the reality of now, but also that of the past, and of course, of the future.