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Toys and Being a Kid

My parents are packing up their house. There are a lot of old toys I have to go through, deciding whether I still want to keep them. I've also seen several friends who have kids on this trip. The kids have toys.

I can't help but contrast the toys of today with the toys I grew up with. I was always trying to figure out how my toys worked--whether it was clever mechanical linkages or some sort of electronics. For the most part it was possible to do so. A lot of my toys were purely mechanical, involving springs, gears, and so forth. Much of this was exposed so you could see how one part interacted with another. Even the electronic toys were simpler. Based on how they failed, what tended to be linked together and how the toy behaved, you could get a reasonably good idea of how it worked. This was true for me even before I started to learn how electricity/circuits worked.

Modern toys are more complicated--especially modern toys that have any electronic parts. It's easy enough to get the automation in a toy complicated enough that you are running arbitrary software in the toy. As a kid, I think I'd have a much harder time understanding the toy at the same level. I could understand whatever the toy wanted to teach me if it were even mildly educational. However I doubt I'd understand how the toys worked.

I suspect that toys did play an important part in giving me practical experience being curious. I'm not sure I would be where I am today without that practical experience. I think that might have just been my reaction—and I suspect the reaction of a lot of my friends—to their toys. If my parents hadn't fostered a strong desire to figure out how the world worked, I doubt I would have approach play that way. Probably most kids don't have bedtime stories about how environmental product test labs worked, or how printers and typewriters were designed. I'm glad my father was willing to spend so much time discussing how farm machinery worked and the various ways it could fail. It was never something I would need practical experience with, but it was something to know. Really I've enjoyed adopting the attitude that it's worth knowing random things even if you can't see the point at all; they will eventually come in useful.


actually that's one of many reasons I try to limit how many of Teo's toys are electronic. I like that he can see how things work with most of his toys. I tend to think that for his age, toys that don't do anything by themselves are the best choice.

I've thought about this some with stuff in general, not just toys. When I was a kid, it seems like my dad could fix anything. But now, it seems that more and more he'll run into a Black Box inside of the appliance or car or whatever that he can point to as the culprit but can't fix. (Our refrigerator has had problems and it turns out it's because it has a brain. A bad brain. My dad was able to jury rig it when it stopped making ice by rewiring it some, but then it had a stroke.... no ice or water from the door now. Well - it'll produce ice, but it shoots out water at the same time.)

Amazing running into you, after so many years! Just thought I'd say hello, again!