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 Amazon.com 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:
- 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?
- 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)