Machine Design

Sure, toys aren't what they used to be, but is that so bad?

Let's go back to the days when popular toys consisted of Lincoln Logs, baby dolls, and Styrofoam airplanes. Basic toys left plenty to the imagination. Kids would have to imagine their dolls walking, talking, crawling, and being potty trained. How many readers spent their weekends setting up plastic army men and make-believe forts, then bombing them to smithereens with whatever stray block was available? Remember when a toy laser gun and a goofy plastic helmet made you an astronaut?

Fast-forward to today. Video games and high-tech toys such as those described in the preceding article contain more computing power than that available to the real-life astronauts who set foot on the moon.

Some may believe that the recreational wizardry available for children today does nothing but stifle the mind, leaving very little at all to the imagination. True, kids are less likely to build a fort with sticks or bend balsa wood a certain way to achieve more stable flight for a two-piece airplane model. But another school of thought holds that, given the gee-whiz factor of today's toys, children may actually learn the tools required to succeed in a high-tech world. Is it possible that immersion in the wonders of science and engineering by the very young may lead to new generations of thinkers who continue to push the envelope? Time will tell.

But in the interim, before you get the urge to say, "Kids today...they don't know what hard work and simple pleasures are," show a little faith. After all, that phrase has been around for generations, and through it all humanity has managed to move ahead, live longer, and continue to develop. (I picture a scene probably played out thousands of years ago as an older generation laments of the younger, "Kids today, with their fire and stone tools, don't know what hard work and imagination are.")

So, at the next birthday or holiday, when you give a high-tech toy to Susie or Johnny, take a minute or two to explain why it works the way it does. Of course, the key is not to throw a toy in front of a kid and walk away. Instead, like anything in a youngster's life, parental involvement and mentoring are musts. And as they play for hours and hours with their new gadget, the seed of knowledge and sense of wonderment may grow. For sure, attributes such as these will serve humanity well.


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