By Amanda Cardini, Staff Writer
If there’s one memory many adults can relate to from their childhood, it’s the indescribable joy of walking into a toy store. Having lived thousands of miles away from our extended family for most of our lives, my siblings and I were sometimes treated with a trip to the toy store by our grandparents when we finally visited them. I still remember the excitement we felt when our grandparents had announced our excursion for the day, and how delighted we were to be able to pick out a new toy. Scenes from Home Alone 2 come to mind of Kevin McCallister stepping into a world beyond his imagination and befriending the store owner at Duncan’s Toy Chest.
The iconic toy store used in Home Alone 2 closed shop two years ago, and last week Toys ‘R’ Us filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. There are several theories as to where Toys ‘R’ Us went wrong, some that even contradict the headline of this article and suggest that Amazon played no part in its demise. However, there’s one aspect that seems to have had an important impact: technology.
It’s undeniable that technology has influenced the way we shop, and toys are a particularly attractive product for online shopping; customers don’t run the risk of ordering the wrong size as they do with clothing, and it makes holiday shopping a breeze by avoiding overcrowded stores. Experts estimate that 41 percent of toys will be purchased online this year. While Toys ‘R’ Us has an online store, it’s proving hard for many online retailers to compete with the growth of Amazon, which has further stepped up the ease of online shopping by delivering packages to your doorstep within 1-2 days.
Kids today are growing up in a world very different than even the world I grew up in, being only 23 years old; over the last few decades technology has advanced at a pace faster than ever. While my sister who is only seven years younger than me cannot, I can remember the process that now seems unnecessarily long of connecting to the Internet through dial-up, and the accompanying beeping tune that signaled the connection. Today’s kids have instant gratification when it comes to accessing the internet; no ridiculous waiting, no obnoxious sound effects—simply click a button on your handheld device, and the world of the internet is quite literally at your fingertips in a matter of seconds. And with all of its positive outcomes, there’s an argument to be made that the world of technology may have replaced the allure of physical toys. Perhaps the days of Polly Pockets, American Girl Dolls, Hot Wheels and Lincoln Logs are gone, substituted by apps on cell phones and video games.
Maybe it’s because I have yet to become a parent in the 21st century to witness it first-hand, but I have hope that this is not the future. My siblings and I had a very balanced childhood. We grew up in a cul de sac and were friends with all of the kids in our neighborhood. As elementary schoolers we sat in class anxiously waiting to get home so we could run outside and play with the neighborhood crew. We kept our activities diverse; some days we played football, others capture the flag, though most days we played kickball, a universal favorite in our neighborhood. We rode bikes, attaching a playing deck card to each of our wheels so that they would make that ultra-cool ticking noise as we rode. We rollerbladed up and down the hilly parts of our streets, built forts in the trees, and pretended we were spies as we stealthily climbed over the walls into each other’s backyards. And some days we retreated inside to play video games.
As mentioned, technology has advanced rapidly even since that time only 10-15 years ago, and has become much more integrated into our everyday lives than it was then. None of us had cell phones in elementary school, and our parents did not have smartphones. But I would like to think that if we were able to find a balance between video games like James Bond and Super Mario, and playing outside with our toys, that today’s kids can too.
All said and done, technology has created replacements for many items that used to be considered essential; we even have calculators and flashlights built right into our phones. But the world of e-commerce will never be able to replace the joy that my age group felt visiting toy stores. Hopefully kids of the future will still be able to find a balance between technology and real toys, but I’m sorry that they won’t experience the wonder of stores like Toys ‘R’ Us. Although who knows, in the next few years it might be commonplace to experience stores through virtual reality at home.