Monday, January 12, 2009

I was watching my daughter play with some electronic, computerized doll house thingy that talked, lit up different rooms when the digital character entered and did everything but the dishes and was intrigued by the complexity of a young child’s toy.
It even talked to you, which is a feature I discovered when I bumped it late one night.
“Where have you been?” this unfamiliar voice said from right beside me.
Upon hearing the strange voice in the darkened room I did what most people would do – I jumped three feet in the air and nearly had a heart attack.
When I calmed down, I investigated the device and harkened back my own youth and the toys we had.The biggest change in youthful entertainment is the rise of computers and the toys the techno age has spawned.Computers are in everything. I am sure it is a sign of the times – which is a nice way of saying I am getting old - but some of the electronic toys kids have today are so complicated I need to take a day off of work just to read the instruction manual.My kids on the other hand, have the game figured out in about 30 seconds.When my son was seven he was going online to get information about Pokemons, or whatever the latest craze was at the time.When I was seven, I kept myself amused by trying to spell words on a calculator. If I recall, 07734, if held upside down and punched in the right sequence spelled 'Hello.'If you left off the zero at the end, it turned into a naughty word which was good for a snicker among my juvenile peers.Wow, the technological marvels of my youth were amazing.Of course today, kids have computers, video games and hand-held electronic games with enough power to run the space station.
They have all sorts of gadgets that I could only see in sci-fi movies when I was a kid.To the kids of today it's just another toy that need batteries, has interchangeable games and makes lots of noise.I remember when Pacman first came out. The game consol was the size of a Smart Car. Now, they can put 27 of those games in a wrist watch.That was my first foray into the world of digital entertainment. Before the yellow eating machine came along most toys did not need electricity.Today, you need solar panels on the roof of your house just to power all the electronic doodads cluttering up the homestead.When I was a wee lad, an Etch-a-sketch was a wonder of science."If you turn this knob the line goes this way. If you turn the other knob, it goes that way. Incredible."An Etch-a-sketch was good for drawing all sorts of things, as long as all they had were straight lines. Angles and other such intricacies were beyond my ability, so I drew lots of castles, with big, rugged walls – full of straight lines.OK, I actually just drew one castle wall. OK, it was just the top of a section of castle wall – left knob, right knob, left knob, right knob – and so on until the wall was built.
My kids saw an Etch-a-sketch once and were amused by it for about three minutes."Where's the on button?"
"It is on.""Really, what does it do?" "Actually it's pretty much doing it, but if you move this knob the line goes this way...."Another low-tech toy of my youth was a Slinky. Those metal marvels that could walk down the stairs, walk from hand to hand and, well, that's about it.You could hold the top and watch it stretch and retract as well I suppose - kind of like a metal yo-yo. Talk about a full day of fun.When you were bored with the Slinky, you would grab one end, your friend would grab the other and you would stretch that sucker out as far as you could.That, of course, would be the end of the Slinky as there was no coming back from that and you were left to play with a very long piece of metal instead of a coiled piece of metal.While visiting my parents a few summers ago we came across an old lawn dart set.My children wanted to try them so my oldest - who was around nine at thetime - grabbed one and threw it straight up in the air before I could explain the subtle nuances the sport entailed.Too young to know he should dive for cover, Junior stood there while the dart landed about a foot away.OK, that's enough fun with lawn darts.It's amazing my friends and I survived such a toy because we used to throw them at each other all the time.We would lob the metal projectiles - that I am pretty sure could have killed a moose if thrown hard enough - toward the other person and the first one to move was branded a little sissy boy. Bravado is a strange thing because we would rather take a lawn dart to the throat than risk the moniker of fraidy cat.The idea was to plant the metal-tipped toy of doom into the ground as close to your friend as possible. Fortunately emergency rooms weren't that busy back then so everything worked out just fine.We also used to play with knives, pellet guns and bow and arrow sets. It was just a regular arsenal of merriment.Today, many kids aren't allowed to play with any of those items for fear they will grow up warped and shoot, stab or stick people.I never did any of those things (outside of the realm of fun and games anyway).So when I get home today, I will plunk myself in front of the Playstation for a few minutes and try to get Scooter to level three. Of course this will only happen if my son is in the same room to tell me how to do it.

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