Thursday, July 9, 2009

Looking with your hands...

I had a customer with a couple of kids who, like most children that come to Borders, must touch and examine every piece of merchandise, especially ones that bounce, or light up, or wind up, or are sugary sweet. And then they ask their parent (usually a mother), if they can buy it, only to put it down as soon as they get home and lose it in the pile of bought trinkets meant only to be bought love (materialism, as in one of my first blogs some years back). But this customer told her kids to "stop looking with your hands." The phrase struck me as odd, because I had never thought of it in that way. It is normal for children to have kinetic learning styles, to experience with every sense, every touch of an object, to learn about it. That's why there's so many burns resulting from a child touching a stove top, or an iron, etc... They want to see what it feels like. But when it comes to shopping, it seems that every book, every toy, needs to be picked up and looked at, and played with, as if it is temporarily owned by whoever picked it up.

This makes sense. Lynn Truss, in Talk to the Hand described a bubble of personal space that people nowadays are very intent on establishing. In that space, people can do whatever they want, from talking on their cell phones, to cursing, to opening the latest toy on the shelves to play with. The cell phone conversations are the worst, being often about relationships gone bad and roller coaster events that really have no place being talked about in public. Truss said that she heard someone talking about the counterfeit money they had just made and their plans for it...while on the subway in London.

For children, the idea is that anything that they pick up, is automatically theirs. Whatever is sucked into that private space, they own. Bill Cosby described this in Bill Cosby Himself, with one of his daughter's that always screamed, "MINE!!!" after picking up something that didn't belong to her. And of course Cosby's point is that, in that circumstance, the parent let's the girl have it because, as he said, he was not interested in justice, he wanted quiet.

Perhaps this is the way that people raise their children, because there have been on numerous occasions I have seen parents try to take a Webkin or a book away from a child, only to have them yell, "MINE!" and then scream and cry when the item is taken away. The child thinks it is his or hers. They've touched it, they've played with it.... it must be theirs.

Where I want to go with this..... the answer is clearly to tell the child no, and, from a very early age, to make the child understand that no means exactly that. No amount of crying or fussing will help. Also, that materialism is akin to love must not be allowed to form in the child's mind. (This I have also talked about in an earlier post).

But unfortunately, the idea of "looking with your hands," has been solved in quite another way.

I was walking into the mall to see Transformers 2 (see below), when out of Borders I noticed a family, a mother and two children, both of whom were going into the parking lot behind their mother, not looking at all whether or not a car was coming. The reason was that they both had Nintendo DS's with them, and one was playing it, one not, but was running blindly ahead anyway. The land of Pikachu and Naruto has become just as addicting to the children as playing with everything inside the store. And while the DS may be keeping the children's section a little neater, it keeps children from looking at the products, which means less money for us, and on a higher educational level, keeps them from seeing books that might open up whole new worlds of escapism and literary wonder.

Now mind, I'm just as guilty as the next person when it comes to playing computer games, but I refuse to play a portable system out in public and zap out the rest of the world. The Nintendo DS is much like a pacifier for toddlers, keeping them quiet and occupied while the mothers shop and ignore their children. It also keeps them doing something with their hands and eyes (which are the same thing) so that they don't incessantly ask their parents for this or that. And while it has its advantages, I disagree with the idea.


There was a time, long ago, when the neighborhood kids would come to our house, or we would go to theirs, and spend hours upon hours playing the latest Nintendo game. It was fun, and I have fond memories of doing this. But there's no communication, no interaction, between people. The interaction is between the person and the television, not between friends, and that always bothered me. That's why I enjoyed playing Magic: The Gathering or doing other activities, even Basketball (even though I was no good) outside, because it allowed me to interact with the people, not just the A and B buttons.

The same thing goes with the kids playing their DS's in the mall. They aren't interacting with their parents, or their siblings, they just wander around half lost in the world of Pokemon or whatever. Or the kids who walk behind their parents with earphone plugs connected to an IPod. There's no social interaction between anyone, and that is inexcusable behavior. It is crucial that people learn, in these technology-filled days, to learn to interact with people on a more intimate level. Just talking via text or through Facebook won't do. Nor will ignoring everyone through portable electronic machines.

But I got off track a little. The people at Nintendo realized that the screaming and crying children in malls and in cars needed something to do with their hands and eyes. So they invented the Game Boy. I have an old black and white one that only plays Tetris. But now the DS's are as powerful as most console systems and are impossible to put down. And this is exactly what the companies want. The kids should be immersed in their games, letting the adults shop and talk and ignore their children. In return, the parents buy them DS's and games to lengthen the time that they don't have to hear the whining and the crying. It makes sense. I would, too. But it's not the right way to do it. You can't exchange good behavior for just keeping quiet and out of the way. The children should be able to look and shop without needing to cry and scream and without having their heads buried in some technological pacifier. But alas, those days are far gone, I fear, and so bring on the brainwashing electronics... for at least there is quiet, for a few moments of the day.

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