You are looking at the last Lego brick from my once large childhood collection. Out of hundreds of pieces I had as a kid, this is the only one left. The others weren’t lost in some kind of senseless Legocide; I don’t want you to think that I was a violent child, one of those little devils who break everything their parents buy them. Quite the opposite, I took care of my beloved toys. The Legos, except for this last blue survivor, were lost over the years in the many moves of my family. These little colorful plastic blocks, once stored in old shoe boxes, often simply got forgotten. Sad really, how many childhood things often simply get forgotten.
I heard recently that Legos are now officially recognized as twentieth century’s most popular toy. I don’t know what kind of research was conducted, and by whom, to determine this claim. And it is a mighty claim; but one, I think, easily refuted. Here’s how.
Though Legos were made long before my father was born, I know they were not his favorite toy. They were not, in fact, available here when he was a child. His favorite toy was, in his own words, a long wooden stick. I’m sure the same can be said about most other people born in the middle of the last century in most places around the world. I therefore nominate the wooden stick as the most popular toy of the twentieth century.
If you grew up in Europe and if, unlike my father, you did not have many or any siblings, your parents probably had more money to spend on you and your toys. In that case, your most cherished toy very likely was a football. I thus nominate the football as twentieth century’s second most popular toy.
Legos, please take your place as twentieth century’s third-ranked most popular toy.
But Legos really were my favorite toy, although my parents didn’t buy them for me (and I suspect sales and profits had a lot to do with the choice of last century’s favorite). No, my parents weren’t terrible people who made me play with wooden sticks and old footballs. I had plenty of toys actually paid for at various toy stores, but Legos came from older cousins who no longer played with them. Some of the older kids in my family went from Legos straight to dating and marriage. Nowadays children go from cell phones to Facebook to dating to divorce without ever stopping for toys of any kind. I think our way was better. I’m not saying playing with Legos made us better people, but at least we learned to use all ten of our fingers instead of just thumbs.
Having Legos passed down from child to child meant that, out of hundreds of pieces bought in sets over the years, by the time they reached me many bricks were already missing or broken. I remember that whenever I tried building a house using only the yellow pieces at my disposal, one corner always ended up missing a few bricks. This is why I would have made the world’s worst architect in adult life. The trademark of every building I would design would have to be one really drafty room on the second floor. Not to mention that my roofs would be notorious for serious leaks. As a kid, no matter how hard I tried, I could never connect the roof pieces correctly to make them fit onto my finished house.
I know that nowadays a child continuously playing with building bricks and tiles and unable to make a simple roof structure for a toy house would probably be suspected of suffering from one of those dreadful learning disabilities. But in my time those didn’t exist. At least not in Serbia. My roof-making troubles were blamed on one of my older cousins (who did end up becoming an architect) who always showed up just in time to lecture me about the flaws of my design and execution, thus often making me abandon my efforts before I finished the top of the house. But of course I knew that even if that wicked boy didn’t show up to distract me, I had no way of connecting those final few roof tiles and bricks. This always happened because several yellow tiles I had to work with had in fact come from different sets, which simply meant that not all pieces were the same and could not be interlocked properly. Thank god we knew nothing of learning disabilities. If we had discovered them then, I’d have grown up hopped up on pills, never having learned my childhood’s greatest lesson: not all bricks are built the same.
I wonder what this century’s favorite toy will be. I suspect Legos won’t make it even to the top one hundred. The world I see a century from now is filled with children playing games only they can see inside their brains. I see these tiny childlike creatures with over-developed thumbs, the rest of their fingers stunted and deformed from lack of use. These lifelong allergy sufferers will walk on skinny pretzel-like legs, because they won’t be allowed to ever walk or run anywhere. And worst of all, they’ll be in a continuous daze as a never-ending game of simulated life plays inside their little heads.
What lessons will this century’s popular toys be teaching our children?