The toy of the future

Tom Friedman’s book “Thank You for Being Late” will blow your mind. It’s about the power of computers and what’s yet to come.
Here’s a little tidbit: if a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle advanced as much as computing power has since then, it would go 300,000 miles per hour, get 2 million miles on a gallon of gas. And cost 4 cents.
Driverless cars? Oh, they’re coming. And sooner than you think.
All I can say is, fasten your seat belts. Before long, they’ll fasten themselves.
Friedman talks about the “toy of the future.” It will be whatever a child can imagine, typed, or most likely spoken into an app and produced in minutes on a 3-D printer. A lot of elves are going to be out of work.
The funny thing is, I had the very same thing 60 years ago when I was a snot-nosed kid.
It was called a stick.
Don’t laugh. The stick is in the National Toy Hall of Fame. And well it should be.
A stick was anything I wanted it to be. A short one with just the right curve became a pirate’s pistol. Or a boomerang. A long one, Davey Crockett’s hunting rifle. The kind he used to “kill himself a bear when he was only three.”
A stick was a long bow when I was Robin Hood. Or a staff when I was his pal Little John.
It was a fishing pole. Or a tent pole. Or a flag pole.
Sticks were arranged into a camp fire, though we never set them on fire.
A stick was my baseball bat when, as Stan Musial, I swatted stones into the empty field next to my grandmother’s house.
How many sticks were horses on which I galloped through the “wild west” next to the baseball field Fleming Park where stately condos now sit? Strip the bark off one and you were riding a Golden Palomino just like Roy Rogers’ “Trigger.”
About 25 years ago, maybe a little more, my friend Larry Pellegrini was talking about the grandfather of all grandfathers, his father-in-law Leo Moran. Larry said the day before, Leo took Larry’s little boy out to a puddle near their house and the two of them played in it for an hour.
The next day I called in sick and kept my own little boy home from pre-school. We walked to a little stream down the street and turned all sorts of sticks into boats. We floated them downstream, seeing how far they would go. And then did it again trying to set a new record.
We raced them and later bombed them with rocks and pine cones. Actually, we bombed my boat with rocks and pine cones. Michael’s was off limits.
We tried building a little dam to see what it would feel like to be beavers.
Then we found bigger sticks and batted stones into a field, “just like Daddy did when he was little.”
The stick wasn’t the only toy I could conjure up without the help of a computer.
There was the box, also a Toy Hall of Fame inductee.
Boxes were magical. If a neighbor got a new TV or washing machine, we had a house. Or a boat. Or Fort Apache. If mom got a new pair of shoes, our little plastic army men or cowboys and Indians had a house, or a boat, or Fort Apache.
Get enough boxes of assorted sizes and you could build a skyscraper. Or turn your little brother into a robot.
And if the box was big enough to sit in, well, that would become a racing car, fighter jet, dog sled or army tank.
Then there’s my son’s favorite Christmas toy. No, not a Nintendo or a bicycle or even the coveted White Ranger that was almost impossible to procure.
Michael’s favorite Christmas toy was the cardboard tubes from wrapping paper.
Every Christmas evening, with all the toys from Santa, White Ranger and all, scattered about and temporarily forgotten, my son and I engaged in heated sword fights, or later light saber fights, with tubes from wrapping paper. We’d go on for hours. And laugh ourselves silly.
We did what the toy of the future will do. We created toys with our imaginations. And we didn’t need a 3-D printer.

Ed Ackerman