I want a digital hippopotamus for Christmas

Lately, I’ve 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 I’m just delusional from the bombardment of annual Christmas commercialism. Either way, I’m 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 – something I dread and tend to put off until the final days before Christmas (which I’ve learned isn’t 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 I’ve ever received.

In my defense, toy shopping isn’t what it used to be. There’s 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electronics: video games, race cars, blu-rays, mp3 players, tablets, phones, and the new 2012 Furby, which unlike the outdated 1998 Furby, will steal loose change off your dresser if you don’t keep an eye on it.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, it’s 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 “back in the day,” but it’s hard not to since so many cotemporary toys don’t invoke the same sense of creativity toys once did. Certainly before I question the lack of imagination in today’s toy market, it’s 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, “building blocks,” 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 “Here’s a few spare chunks of wood, Shawn. Go play.”

Even those few traditional, low-tech toys – the ones that have found their way into kids’ toy chests for decades – 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 ‘N’ Say, Fisher-Price, Barbie and the dinosaur on “Toy Story,” 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. There’s always that element of surprise when a child receives their gift on Christmas morning ... and it’s easier to hide a digital Christmas gift.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunshawn.

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