Being a giant-sized kid
Play is awesome. A Google search will give you a plethora of information about play’s useful properties, both for children and adults. I believe in this research but I’m also a big proponent of play simply for the sake it. That’s why kids do it, right? Kids aren’t thinking, “this activity will help boost my creativity and bring me closer to the state of flow as described by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, thus making me more productive at work.” Kids do what feels good.
Recently, Chris and I were waiting to enter TEKNOPOLIS, an exhibit of interactive art and technology at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Most of the patrons were moms and dads with children under 8 (the exhibit was listed as for ages 6 to adult). The line was a bouncing, waving, whining stream of child energy.
Along with the “everyone-would-categorize-them-as-such kids,” there were a mother and her teenaged son in front of us; he looked to be about 14 or 15 years old. He wasn’t quite full grown. He had long hair and was dressed casually. He looked around and expressed dismay at the preponderance of children. “I didn’t think there would be so many kids,” he said. His tone suggested that the kids made the event seem less cool, and that he didn’t identify as a kid. Like maybe he wasn’t in the right place.
This attitude isn’t surprising. I remember how it felt to be a teenager. I’d also heard similar concerns from Chris — to whom I simply kept insisting, “it’s all good; we’re giant-sized kids; this will be fun.” I told the teenaged-kid essentially the same thing. Turned out, I was right!
TEKNOPOLIS was FUN.
Somehow, Chris and I ended up working our way through the exhibits on roughly the same path as the teenaged-kid and his mother, and that was fun too. When they opened the gate, we beelined for the virtual reality room upstairs and stood together waiting to use Google Tilt Brush — a 3-D virtual reality drawing program. The teenaged-kid went first. He was prepared (and, we learned, had been pestering mom for a home system) and he made a drawing that was recognizably derived from life. It was fun to watch.
I said to Chris, “I need a plan!” It was intimidating knowing that a line of people would be watching me. First though, I wanted to experiment with all of the brushes and to orient myself in space. The few minutes I had with the system went by quickly. I want to play more with this very cool tool!
Later, we went downstairs to the XYZT room. Borrowing from math for its name – x (horizontal), y (vertical), z (depth), and t (time) – the room was full of sensory, immersive, playful, and interactive technological innovations in black and white. The video below is from “Anamorphosis in Time” which transformed live video of exhibit-goers into wavy and time-distorted alter-versions.
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Another of my favorite pieces was the “Kinetic Sand,” a light-table-slash-horizontal-responsive-video-screen. It showed digital “grains of sand” that could be manipulated in patters by touching the table. We met up again with the teenaged-kid at this table. He watched us us play for a few moments and then started asking questions… “how does it work? … ” is it responding to your hand like there’s a gravitational pull?”
“Try it,” we suggested. We all played for a little while and then, as the group around the table enlarged, Chris and I wandered off. When we returned, the teenaged-kid was still there. He had played through each of the five or so cycles of pattern and physics that the table offered, and he explained to us how it worked. One pulled particles towards the hand, another pushed them away, and so on. We all played together a while longer. “What happens if …?”
Others joined, and the games continued.
That kind of engagement is why giant-sized kids are so cool. Chris and I had a blast running and jumping around the exhibits for our allotted two-and-a-half hours. We problem-solved our way through the interactive parts but it wasn’t a serious science project kind of vibe. It was play, curiosity, complete engagement in the moment. We were absorbed. We were inventive. We connected.
My complete attention to the moment reminds me of how I felt in the South Dakota Wind Cave. It also reminds me of long-ago adventures; early in our relationship, Chris and I visited Ireland together and spend days crawling around the Burren, amused by little more than limestone rock, tide pools, the smashing of waves, and each other.
Homo Ludens, a classic work on play by the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, describes play as “a free activity standing quite consciously outside ordinary life as being ‘not serious’ but at the same absorbing the player intensely and utterly.”
That quote describes travel-adventuring at its best.
I am so grateful that we can still find the time and places act like giant-sized kids, even now that we’re living like grownups back home.
This is life. I am lucky.