Toys R Us will soon shutter its doors forever. The last of the big toy stores where children could wander the isles in amazement at the wondrous toys they could snooker their parents into buying for them (But mom, I neeeeeeeeeeeeed it!). Sorrowfully, Generation X and the Millennials will never know, or understand, the joy of a 60 watt bulb inside of a Susie Homemaker oven, or a Mister Ed talking puppet. They will never know the excitement of the debut of Barbie in 1955, the delight of buying a full set of clothes for $1.99, or having the carrying case to house those clothes. For those really adept at snookering, a parent could be conned into buying a Barbie dollhouse with all the accessories. If you didn’t have one, you found a friend who did and went to their house a lot to play. The expression then was “going over.” Now, it’s a “play date.”
So why should a bunch of middle-aged, somewhat wrinkled, somewhat gray individuals be upset about the closing of the last big toy store? There are so many things going on in the world that require their attention. Because, thankfully, they have not lost the connection to their inner child. The child who knew no better way to find joy and happiness. Because they knew exactly where to find the shelves where the shiny sheriff badges, pop guns that made realistic sounds and filled the air with sulfur, and the bags of plastic green soldiers posed in combat positions were located (current political correctness not withstanding). And the shooting pain of stepping barefoot on a soldier in the wee hours of the morning because you didn’t put your toys away.
However, there is a deeper message here in addition to holding onto our inner child. It’s a true signal that the world as we knew it has been and continues to disappear because of a slavish attachment to a market economy and profit. Why go to a giant chain store when you could buy things elsewhere for much less and without hassle? The new world sacrifices human contact and experience. Virtual exchanges are more efficient and economical. Consider the following: getting into your car, wasting gas, looking for parking, walking into a store, standing in line at the checkout, paying retail, and heading back home. Or, you could sit down at the computer, drink in hand (make that a double), and surf the web for the best bargain.
Now, consider this: Tangible, tactile experience provides joy and beauty. It isn’t all about the money. Multi-sensory experiences stay as memories. Virtual shopping does not. It is the same difference as reading, having a book in hand, feeling its weight (physically and emotionally), and manually turning the pages versus reading a book on Kindle (even Captain Picard read his novels in book form, appreciating the feel of leather bound classics).
It is doubtful that future generations will be able to see the joy reflected in the faces of their children when walking through the isle of a toy store (they won’t exist anymore). It’s a magic moment you will not get when clicking on a mouse and using Paypal. The world has become lost in the Amazon.com jungle. Childhood is made of dreams and wishes. Toys are used to act out those dreams. There’s a sense of commitment when, as a child you could pick out those toys, hold them in your hand, and decide, with love, which ones were made for you. Buying in the Amazon jungle may be more efficient, less time-consuming, and cheaper, but much sadder. No memories of parents or grandparents taking you to buy a toy, riding in the car with them, and the happiness you felt. One click and done. Memories, feelings, and experiences - DELETE.