A poppet

This is a poppet, a silicon toy that you press to invert. Poppets were initially developed for kids with ‘sensory problems’ – you could purchase them online from sites that provide for kids with special needs. As of November 2021, they are the hottest toy on the street. Over the course of the year large retailers like Kmart started stocking poppets, (all are sold out).

We’re all familiar with toy-fads, from yo yos to BeyBlades. Poppets are interesting though, because their marketing was not through the usual channels – online or TV advertising. The first I became aware of them was when some turned up for a colleague who had ordered them for a session with some special needs children (I should note that I am not a teacher, nor do I have any training in education, definitely not my area).

It’s not hard to imagine how they became popular. First, one or two kids in a class are allowed to play with a toy, while the others are not. These kids, the kids with poppets, no doubt seem much all the other kids. Suddenly, there’s a toy that you’re allowed to play with in class! I want one!

What’s more interesting to me is how these ‘sensory toys’ have become a mainstream, extremely popular category of toys. My kid told me all about their use, about how they’re meant to address fidgety-ness and boredom in class for kids who have special needs. Special needs is positioned as, well, special.

It was only recently that most toys were ‘sensory’, they all provided various levels of enjoyment while playing with them, from slime to playdough to blocks. Basically, anything that required physical interaction was ‘sensory’.

It’s hard not to think about the concept of transhumanism in this context, and the pathologisation of normal human activity. As we increasingly move play online, any playing or toy that it used IRL (in real life) is special. It is ‘sensory’. The real world is becoming fetishised. Kids are increasingly described as ‘sensory seeking’, which often means, ‘unable to sit in front of an iPad for hours on end. As always, this does not apply to all. Some kids display extremely difficult and dangerous behaviour, which might be described as sensory seeking. But most kids are just being….kids.

Is this what happens when we normalise online play?

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