Here's an excerpt from an article in today's New York Times:
With New Toys, More Assembly Required
As another holiday shopping season gets under way, new toys will soon begin entering households in critical mass. To the consternation of countless parents like Ms. Starr, a startling number will need to be built.
For a variety of reasons — from international trading patterns to the amount of shelf space at big domestic retailers — toys are coming in more compressed packaging these days and with more dreaded assembly required. And many adults feel less and less up to the task.
“I think it’s true that toys do have more parts today,” said Simmie Kerman, a co-owner of four toy stores called Barstons Child’s Play, in the Washington-Baltimore area. Manufacturers, she explained, save on shipping and labor costs by packaging toys flat and unassembled. “It keeps the costs down,” she said. “It’s the Ikea model.”
Consumers pay less as a result, but they bear a bigger burden when theyopen the box.
Then there’s the ever-growing popularity and educational allure of so-called construction toys, like Legos; for them, building is supposed to be part of the point and part of the fun. Many such kits are no longer designed for open-ended, creative building, but rather to construct a precise model based on a licensed movie theme, for example “Star Wars” or “Transformers.”
If a child can’t recreate the spaceship or warrior by following pages of directions, it is up to the parents to do it.“They’ll help in the beginning, but in the end, it’s me and my husband — and they’re watching TV,” said Lori Harasem of Lethbridge, Alberta, referring to her attempts to assemble Transformers robots for her children, ages 11, 9 and 2. “Often the directions aren’t very clear, and suddenly you’re disassembling.”
As she spoke, she was looking out the window at a playhouse she had tried to assemble for her daughter. One of its walls had fallen down.
Recognizing her customers’ frustration — and perhaps their mechanical shortcomings — Ms. Kerman has her staff build some toys, like tricycles, anticipating that customers either won’t be able to do it themselves or will do it wrong. In the case of other toys, like train tables, the store will assemble them for a modest fee of $10 or so.
“My stores cater to a more urban clientele,” she said. “They are not out on the weekends tinkering with their car. Their handy skills have become less specialized.” She added, “Maybe we’ve all lost that skill” of building things by hand.
This article brought several things to mind:
1. As a knitter, I totally can take 2 sticks, some string, and (sometimes) follow directions to make things. Putting together IKEA furniture is easy for me, but I know people -- non-knitters -- who are defeated by IKEA instructions.
2. I grew up playing with toys like Lego but mostly I remember playing with stuffed animals. Once my motor skills improved, I did arts and crafts, like embroidery and drawing and making clothes for the stuffed animals. So for me, playing and making things and assembling things were all connected.
3. I do think most people have lost the skill of building things because now we can just buy things. That loss of connection with the time, effort, and skills of what it takes to make things leads to devaluing handcraft and labor in general.
4. This disconnect also leads to more stress. I knit because I want the product, the end result of all the knitting. But the rhythm of knitting stitch after stitch after stitch, calms me down, like fingering rosary beads for some people. And the soft and pretty yarn! Physically handling such soft materials like silk, merino wool, and tencel, when usually I'm touching hard keyboards, pens, and paper, is so soothing.
Knitting can be as easy or difficult as you want. I'm totally doing only garter stitch and stockingnette stitch projects at this point because those are easy. Enough in my life is challenging. So I rely on beautiful yarn, as shown in this previous post, make the project beautiful.