Thursday, June 9, 2011

Toys, old and modern.

There are three things I lately noticed that have made me think about the current condition of advertising.

First, I saw somewhere (I forget where) little magnetic balls--a desk toy selling online for something like $80. Second, some years after all the shoe repair shops, hobby shops and bookstores closed in my neighborhood, to be replaced by over-priced restaurants, nail salons, over-priced restaurants and nail salons, a kids' toy store opened in my neighborhood. Finally, a store called "Burlington Antique Toys," which was housed in the basement of one of New York's last independent bookstores, shut its doors at the end of May. Burlington Antique Toys sold tin and cast iron toys to rich older men reliving the childhood they never had--it specialized in late 19th and early 20th century tin soldiers.

It occurred to me that this confluence of toys has a meaning. One is, we have a need for toys, regardless of our age. Toys stimulate our imagination. They allow us to use our hands in play, not work. They allow us an indirectness. Not every action, not every waking moment must be filled with something that gets us toward a goal.

Toys allow us, in short, psychic and physical downtime. We use them to start a screensaver in the serious lobe of our brains. If you go back into history, toys are ever-present in all societies. They are often the first "tools" people make after bowls, spears and the like.

It occurs to me that as our society and our industry has evolved into a new species (homo technologistus) that we have spent a fair amount of the early years of our macro development creating toys.

I don't just mean "Angry Birds," or "Bedazzled." But things like "Facebook," "Four Square" and the like are essentially toys. That doesn't mean they aren't important or aren't serious. It does mean, in my opinion, that we should think about what they really are and what role they play in our lives before we deem them the engines of marketing nirvana.

Sometimes a toy is just a toy.

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