If we allow our children to be unimaginative and dull they will rarely be anything else

3 min read

From Lego to 3D printing, gadgets and toys with a promised ability to inspire the next generation are discouraging children from using their imagination, writes our anonymous blogger 

Recently, for a brief moment, I thought I was going to get one of these pieces quoted back at me. Sadly that little hoped for vanity remains as yet unrealised but I can let you know that it was during a chat with a colleague about creativity.

Today's Lego sets are sold as being to produce a single finished item

We were both expressing our disappointment in how the play of “youngsters today” tends to be prescribed. One particular avenue we explored was the way that Lego sets are sold as being to produce a single finished item and, once the child has completed the task, this being how it generally stays.

Readers with long memories may recall that I once suggested how those of you with offspring should “torch” all instructions supplied with the sets owned by your own progeny. What became apparent as we discussed this further was that the problem does not simply relate to the world of brightly coloured building blocks.

The age of “3D Printing” was heralded with the same sort of predictions for a bright new future that also accompanied the ideas of the flying car and the domestic robot. Everything would change, every home would have one and nothing would be beyond your grasp.

However rather than us having moved to a world of infinite possibilities, again it would seem that the prescribed route is usually the chosen one. Rather than, for instance, inventing cartoon characters to model and print out, the kids find readymade models of their existing favourites then pay to download the programming. This is then fed into the 3D Printer which produces the desired statuette.

Of course there is more involvement and interaction when compared to purchasing a boxed figure from a shop but is there really that much more? You gain some intrinsic understanding of additive manufacture and the concept of the 3D model but nothing relevant to the normal range of manufacturing processes or design. With the availability of different coloured filaments there may even be no need for finishing.

Rather than encouraging kids to design their own characters 3D printing has created a market for downloadable models. Image: Gambody.com

Certainly when compared with more traditional means to similar ends, i.e. the “plastic kit”, you are actually removing the acquisition of skill sets and understanding. So rather than moving into a state where the child is encouraged to explore their own imagination and render it complete in the physical world we are instead merely providing a more direct path to the acquisition of merchandise for existing items – be they figurines, cars or whatever.

We would perhaps expect this to a degree anyway because we live in a consumerist society and there would always be a market for the pay and download items, but I wonder why (admittedly from a small sample) this seems the norm almost to the point of exclusivity? Surely it cannot be mere laziness?

Is it too much to suggest that a child who is allowed to be dull and unimaginative now will rarely be anything else?

Is the human condition really such that the rollercoaster route to satisfaction found in creating something yourself will always be sacrificed for the low level but consistent anodyne payback of instant gratification?

Looking back at my formative self for reference I realise I can only try to be detached and realistic. In assessing if things have changed it may well be impossible to entirely jettison the attitudes of what we have become, to avoid imprinting our mature selves over our half recalled earlier self.

Taking this on board, although my finished model kits generally looked like crashed versions of the subject matter and I wasn’t one for hand carving emergency bicycle chains from bits of hedgerow – there was always the drive to create. Writing stories, drawing, inventing; wild imaginings of a future that I would like to inhabit. Then there was that battered biscuit tin full of Lego, ours being adorned with famous pub signs and even now instantly visualised with evocative clarity - the go to resource for building the inspiration de jour. Assessing available materials and planning the best approximation to the chosen subject matter, be it steam loco or X-Wing Fighter. Through such things are methods for exploring the imagination established and basic techniques for manifesting those ideas born.

By contrast, is it too much to suggest that a child who is allowed to be dull and unimaginative now will rarely be anything else?