Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Stifling Creativity

Due to inclement weather here, today's classes have been canceled. While I'm waiting to hear about my cousin's outcome today, I've decided to post a little something which has been on my mind ever since I read this February 7, 2007 article in the Washington Post. The article relates a new trend in toys known as Webkinz.

Excerpt from the Washington Post article:
In real life, all that 10-year-old Megan Leffew's cuddly stuffed animals can do is sit on her bed in her room in Rockville. But online, they can play air hockey, whip up a fish-and-chips dinner or take a dip in a hot tub.

They are called Webkinz, huggable, plush toys with elaborate virtual lives that spotlight how children's play is changing, moving effortlessly between the real world and the Web. And in less than two years, they have become must-have items for tech-savvy 'tweeners.


Each stuffed animal comes with an identification number that gives children access to the Webkinz site. There, owners discover their pets' online personas ("I'll let you in on a secret," reads the profile of a cocker spaniel. "I love fish sticks, and I've always wanted a bunny clown.") Children can buy clothes for their pets using virtual money, outfitting them in baggy jeans or pink tutus. They can also decorate their pets' virtual rooms with such items as a stove, a boy-band poster or a bed shaped like a pirate ship....
Read the entire WaPo article HERE.

I find this trend in toys disturbing on several levels. First, instead of playing creative games with their teddy bears and dolls, children can log onto the Internet and interact with their toys via computer. Whatever happened to children creating their own games with their toys? When I was a child, I played for hours with various of my toys, creating dialogues and adventures for various characters. Second, I see potential for abuse when children, unsupervised, access the Internet. How long before the Webkinz site gets hacked by pornographers? Third, children today already have a problem with obesity. Won't Webkinz serve to further encourage children to be couch potatoes? Fourth, encouraging children to spend so much time online might possibly contribute to Computer and Cyberspace Addiction. I know from personal experience how using the Internet can become an obsession. Would not children be even more vulnerable than adults in that regard? Fifth, interactive toys such as Webkinz will make children less likely to enjoy reading and other activities which don't offer the flashy options. What book can as effectively compete with customizable interactive toys? Corollary to this point: What effect will Webkinz have on children's attention spans? Finally, these interactive toys are communicating a materialistic, self-centered values-system. What subtle message is being communicated with all the many options offered by Webkinz? Visit the manufacturer's web site to see for yourself the marketing ploys being used.

Escape from the real world is an important part of childhood, as is the creation of neural pathways which later make possible certain thought processes. Toys such as Webkinz blur the lines between the virtual world and the real world in ways which, particularly for children, might later have unforeseen consequences.
As one parent quoted in the article put it,
"I was making dinner, and she was on my husband's laptop. And I hear her saying, 'Oh, we're going to go out for a walk now,' as if she's talking to a pet," Lukish said. "Then I look over at the laptop, and I said, 'Oh my gosh, there's something wrong with this picture.'"
"Something wrong" doesn't begin to cover all the negative outcomes of toys such as Webkinz.


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posted by Always On Watch @ 2/13/2007 09:40:00 AM