I’ve heard old timers talk about how when they were kids they didn’t have TV to deaden their imaginations. They had radio, and their minds needed to fill in the spaces between the words with a world of their own imagining.
I could never really understand their objections. After all, I had TV, but I also had books, shelves upon shelves of books, and I was used to filling in the spaces.
But I finally have my own “when I was knee high to a grasshopper, things were different” speech. Which is good, because I was worried I wasn’t going to turn out to be a grumpy old curmudgeon, but now I can rest easy.
When I was young, we had this toy called Lego. Now before you rush in to say, “We’ve got that now” I’m gonna stop you right there. The Lego you’ve got isn’t the same Lego we had. You’ve got prefabricated, pre-digested, specially formulated snap together reusable plastic model kits.
Now I’m not knocking plastic kits. I built more than my share. When I wanted to build a Boeing B-17G or a ’57 Chevy Bel Air, I bought a model of it. But when I wanted to let my imagination soar, I reached for my Legos and built whatever I could dream up. My “men” were the little single peg pieces, and we didn’t get that many of them. In terms of purpose-built pieces, my Lego had ‘em, too: wheels, with removable tires so the wheels could be pulleys. And none of that stopped me from building space ships and airplanes and bridges and buildings.
Please don’t get me wrong: I would have sold my sister or my dog to get one of the Death Star or Millennium Falcon Lego sets they make now, or the Lego people with arms that move and hands that can hold things. But I couldn’t possibly have realized then what I’ve long since come to understand: give a kid a set of instructions and he learns to assemble, but force a kid to imagine and he learns to create.
And the thing I am most passionately proud of about myself is my ability to create.
Can someone please explain to me what we are teaching our children when all their toys are branded, with back stories and personalities, when we’ve replaced their imaginary landscapes with realistic fantasies played out in pixels on ever-present screens, and when even their Lego comes with instructions and pieces that can only ever fit in one, rather limited, way?