Screens All the Way Down


Sure, this is a dreaded trend story — but it’s a trend I find fascinating!

On Wednesday, six of the nine best-selling toys for 5- to 7-year-olds on were tech gadgets. For all of 2006, three of the top nine toys for that age group were tech-related.

The trend concerns pediatricians and educators, who say excessive screen time stifles the imagination. But more traditional toys — ones without computer monitors, U.S.B. cables and memory cards — are seen by many children as obsolete.

“If you give kids an old toy camera, they look at you like you’re crazy,” said Reyne Rice, a toy trends specialist for the Toy Industry Association. Children “are role-playing what they see in society,” she added.

Now I suppose you could be of two minds about this (bourgeois) development:

  1. Isn’t it sad that kids can’t pretend with a toy camera any more? And aren’t we therefore doomed when these mindless, over-screen-timed psychopaths rear up to kill us all?
  2. Good for kids that they’ve grasped the underlying reality of technological capability, even in their role playing. Plus, I wish I had the chance to do this as a toddler:

Eric Jorgensen, a programmer at Microsoft, has invented PixelWhimsy, a computer program that allows toddlers to sit at a regular computer and bang away on the keys to create sounds and colors and shapes, but without damaging the computer.

Asmin Jalis, who also works at Microsoft and whose 2-year-old boy, Ibrahim, has been using PixelWhimsy, said his son liked it better than his toy computer. “We have a toy laptop for him, and he knows it’s a fake,” he said.

The image above is what the tech-forward toddlers of today get to do when banging away on PixelWhimsy. I’m of Mind #2, by the way. In some sense, this trend is bogus — like almost all trend stories, naturally — because I had primitive screen devices as playthings all throughout my formative years. Maybe not during pre-school, but Speak & Spell didn’t arrive all that much later. And maybe that gives me some authority, as part of bridge generation between the pre-techtoy cohort and the post-techtoy cohort. (I’m assuming, for the sake of the trend, that television is outside the scope of discussion here, since the trend seems to point only to interactive, screen-bearing toys.)

My point in defense of this development, and against those experts worried about young imaginations stunted by screen time, is that most bourgeois humans today are screened-up folks. It just seems absurd, on its face, to suggest that a relatively less screened-up youth somehow equips you with imaginative health and well being in a way that a screen-heavy childhood can’t. Also, since most people I know spend upwards of eight hours per day screen-gazing in order to make a paycheck — and then untold off-hours with screens, as well — it seems to me healthy that modern children learn to incorporate a sense of play and whimsy into their person-to-screen relationships at as early an age as possible. Because the future, let’s admit it, is screens all the way down. (via)

2 responses to “Screens All the Way Down

  1. i just did a quick search on what happens to old computers and electronic equipment when we get tired of it (which kids quickly do as we all know). these youth electronic devices are made with toxic chemicals like lead, mercury, arsenic, stuff like that. when we throw them in the trash, they go into our landfills and leach into the soil and our water. when we “recycle” them, industry insiders say 80 percent of the e-waste material is exported, and 90 percent of that material goes to china. there it gets stripped by hand for every reusable bit of plastic or metal. including lead, it seems. makes me think long and hard about buying that “laptop” shaped like barbie’s purse.

    here’s the link i was looking at if you want more info:

  2. I’m Eric Jorgensen’s son. I can tell you that he put much work into the making of that toy. Pixelwhimsy has been the pride and joy of his Computer Engineering career. Please enjoy his several years of work. And PLEASE spread the word that there is a more current version of Pixelwhimsy available to the public! All these companies are letting people download earlier versions, but the upgrade is worth it. Before, the program wouldn’t work on widescreen monitors, but now it does so more people can use the program. Also, it puts the numpad keys on the side so you can see what is on.

    Secrets of Pixelwhimsy:

    During gameplay, type “madlibs”. A sound will play, an then press F10. Random madlibs will pop up.

    During gameplay, change your current color to rainbow. Enter text mode, and type “whimsicality”. NO SPELLING ERRORS! (and no backspacing either!) The sound “flabbergasted” will start. (Flabbergasted was a much earlier DOS version of Pixelwhimsy, and it won an award in Intel.) Go to the picture stamp cursor. Pictures of the staff and their families will be options of the pictures. Our greatest tester of the bunch was Britta, the baby with the white and brown hat. It calms her down when she is restless, and helps her to go to sleep… We’ve used it a lot!

    Hope you enjoy Pixelwhimsy!


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