Thursday, 24 December 2009

Real toys make real memories

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

Looking back at the “good old days” is definitely a sign that you are entering your “mature” years. That being said, there may have been some advantages from “before” that we do not have “now.”

The US economy is a disaster. Real unemployment is above 20 percent. There is no growth in economic activity as evidenced by the latest revision of the third-quarter gross domestic product, previously reported as up 3.53 percent, then revised downward to 2.78 percent and now pegged at 2.24 percent. The critical retail and housing sectors are “bottom bouncing” and showing no growth.

But all that has not stopped American shoppers from jumping on the latest Christmas toy, Zhu Zhu Pets.

The US has a well-founded reputation of one toy being available in time for Christmas that turns into a craze. Every year stories emerge of shoppers practically killing each other to get the last one in stock. Parents driving hours to little rural towns where there might be one left. And, of course, entrepreneurs hoarding items early and selling them for three or four times the retail price on eBay. This year is no different.

The hot toy for 2009 is the Zhu Zhu Pet, a battery-operated motorized hamster-looking toy, which name means “little pig” in Chinese.

According the company’s web site, “Zhu Zhu Pets are the world’s first innovative, realistic, interactive, plush and artificially intelligent hamsters that talk and move around in their own play sets [two AAA batteries included].”

Zhu Zhu Pets are the brainchild of an American toy company employing a couple of dozen executives and sales people and several dozen more workers in China doing the manufacturing. They will undoubtedly make millions; not the Chinese, of course.

I will admit it. I like kids’ toys. Over the years, I realize I have bought toys for my sons that I probably wanted for myself. And I am possibly a little jealous. When I was a child, if you wanted your toy gun to go “Bang!” you had to shout “Bang!” Now, that toy gun has a computer chip that says “Bang!” and a lot more than that, and almost certainly does it in 20 different languages. But you know, even after more than half a century, I can still remember a small tree branch I had that sort of looked like a rifle. I played with that gun for a whole summer vacation. It never said “Bang!” but it did have a sling that I made out of two old shoelaces tied together and an aiming sight from some gold thumbtacks.

The creator of the electronic hamsters says the objective was to make a toy that offers the fun of a hamster without the mess. “The best alternatives to real live hamsters, Zhu Zhu Pets hamsters don’t poop, die, or stink.”

And that is my objection to Zhu Zhu Pets.

There have always been pets roaming through my family. A couple of hundred tropical fish, several cats, nearly a dozen dogs, mice, birds and the latest addition, a guinea pig, have called my house their home. And every one of them pooped, sometimes stank, and a few have died. And I am glad they did not run on two AAA batteries.

I remember when the oldest boy was still short of his seventh birthday. Our dog wandered around the house all day not feeling well and about dinnertime suddenly started heaving and coughing and then died on the kitchen floor. The vet said it was probably canine distemper or something like that.

Before that night was over, my boys got their first taste of one part of living: the death of a loved one. The dog was bundled up in an old blanket and we dug a grave outside in the back garden. The youngest boy, about 5, thought that in addition to the leash, the dog’s food bowl should be buried, too, so that is what we did.

My young sons learned an important lesson that night, much more important than learning that if your pet Zhu Zhu stops moving, it is time to buy new batteries.

My children also learned over the years that pets, like people, poop and need to be cleaned up after. And if you take the enjoyment of loving a pet, you also take the duty and responsibility of cleaning up the pet’s mess.

The Zhu Zhu people say that they “create positive disruption through innovation, whereby saving magic from extinction.” I am not sure what kind of magic they are saving as toy manufacturers but I remember the magic in son No.3’s eyes the first time he saw the momma guppy give birth to 30 baby fish.

The true lessons of life have to be learned by living life, not by fake imitations. A few summers ago, the boys wanted to earn some extra money so they set up a fish-ball/cheese-fry business outside the house. They discovered about working capital and raw-material costs and profit margins and division of labor. The youngest wanted to be the cook but he could not quite reach the cooker properly. So he was happily in charge of napkins and toothpicks. And they also found out about unsold merchandize, having to eat leftover fish balls for dinner and breakfast.

The only one in my house that would probably appreciate a Zhu Zhu hamster is the Labrador Jake. Every time Jake gets too close to the realistic, interactive, plush, and actually intelligent guinea pig named Jack, he gets his nose whacked. The Zhu Zhu would be easier to catch and chew on.

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1 comment:

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