I want a digital hippopotamus for Christmas


Lately, Iíve been in more of a holiday spirit. Call it a shift of my holy-jolly state-of-mind. Maybe my heart really did grow three sizes, or maybe Iím just delusional from the bombardment of annual Christmas commercialism. Either way, Iím more in tune with the Christmas season this year.

But unfortunately, this newfound Christmas spirit lacks any sense of excitement when it comes to gift shopping Ė something I dread and tend to put off until the final days before Christmas (which Iíve learned isnít so bad. Even Santa waits until the night before Christmas to start delivering gifts). I enjoy giving but I never have a good gift idea, especially when it comes to toys, which is funny given how easily amused I am. Two years ago, I got a mini marshmallow shooter from Grandma for Christmas. It was one of the greatest gifts Iíve ever received.

In my defense, toy shopping isnít what it used to be. Thereís no denying the changes in the toy market over the years. Gone are the days when kids wake up to see a new bicycle or a hula-hoop under the tree, or that official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot model air rifle (reference to my favorite Christmas movie). Nowadays, the toy market is saturated with electronics: video games, race cars, blu-rays, mp3 players, tablets, phones, and the new 2012 Furby, which unlike the outdated 1998 Furby, will steal loose change off your dresser if you donít keep an eye on it. This is all good news for high-tech toy manufacturers; bad news for the large population of elves without a B.A. in computer science and information technology.

As I see it, itís a sad, somber day when a toy is hardly considered a toy unless it needs lithium battery. I hate to sound like one of the whining old-timers who say everything was better ďback in the day,Ē but itís hard not to since so many cotemporary toys donít invoke the same sense of creativity toys once did. Certainly before I question the lack of imagination in todayís toy market, itís only fair to say I had a Nintendo when I was a kid. Then again, I specifically remember also having a very large tin cylinder full of wood scraps ... excuse me, ďbuilding blocks,Ē but none of them had any specific shape. They were pieces of wood, in various colors to make it more kid-friendly.

What better way to encourage a kid to use his imagination than saying ďHereís a few spare chunks of wood, Shawn. Go play.Ē

Even those few traditional, low-tech toys Ė the ones that have found their way into kidsí toy chests for decades Ė have taken a new approach over the years. For the first time in its 60-year history, the toy manufacturing company Mattel, makers of Hot-Wheels, See ĎNí Say, Fisher-Price, Barbie and the dinosaur on ďToy Story,Ē is making Barbie home construction sets (pink, of course) that the company says will encourage women to enter the male-dominated field of science and engineering. The change is also to appeal more to father figures who are doing more of the Christmas shopping than ever before.

Some traditional toys are getting a digital upgrade. To compete with gadgets in a digital age, toy manufacturers are integrating technology into some American toy classics. Digital cameras are on dolls, mp3 players on teddy bears, and countless board games have even gone digital. Players play them on game boards download onto a tablet via special apps, and use game pieces with electronic sensors to move around the top of the iPad. Seems kind of pointless to me. Why not just haul out the old game board and plastic game pieces?

It makes me question, how much longer before all my Christmas toy shopping is done via the online app store?

Still, it should be noted that not all is changed. Thereís always that element of surprise when a child receives their gift on Christmas morning ... and itís easier to hide a digital Christmas gift.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunshawn.

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