Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Now that I'm firmly entrenched in middle age and raising two kids, I've started noticing a lot of ways things are different today for children from when I was growing up. Many things are better, but some things are, in my opinion, a pale imitation:

1) The Internet: We didn't have the Internet (or, more precisely, the Web) when I was a kid, so if you had to research a topic, your options were basically going to the library, checking out book stores, and running around a lot to see what physical media might be available in your local area, and that was a pain.

2) Movies: I don't mean kids' movies are better -- that could be debated for forever with no obvious conclusion -- I just mean that watching movies is a better experience today. Not only is HD a great thing, but bigger screens at home make movies much more of an experience. Knowing anyone with a TV larger than 25" was a rarity when I was a kid.

3) Video games: Clearly, the variety and quality of video games out now puts those of the 70s and early 80s to shame. Pong was fun, Space Invaders was mind-blowing when it first came out, and who didn't enjoy marathon Atari 2600 sessions, but they really do pale in comparison to what's available today.

4) Markers: They're washable now. When I was a child, if you even looked at a marker the wrong way, your shirt/dress/pants wound up looking like a tarp from Jackson Pollock's studio.

5) Cameras: Film cameras? Expensive. You had to buy the film and then pay for it to be processed. Yes, Polaroids were fun in that they gave you almost instant gratification, but they, too, were prohibitively expensive. Now, with digital, the cost per shot is essentially zero, so handing a camera to a kid to play with taking some photos is perfectly reasonable.

1) Car trips: Who wants to drive for 8 hours strapped into an immovable seat with a 5-point safety harness like some Air Force test pilot? Sure, we now have all kinds of in-car video systems and iPods and stuff, which helps. But there's nothing like spreading out a blanket in the back-back of the station wagon.

2) Playgrounds: Teeter-totters, carousels, monkeybars, and all sorts of metal, moving contraptions that kids loved are getting harder and harder to find as playgrounds emphasize safety and minimize their exposure to litigation. Yes, the new rubber play surfaces help avoid skinned knees and broken bones, which is nice, but today's playground is considerably less interesting than those of a few decades ago.

3) Cracker Jack prizes: I remember getting spy-decoder rings, paratrooper figures with working parachutes, and ball-in-a-cup puzzles in boxes of Cracker Jack. Now, it's at best a temporary tattoo, and at worst an inane joke. Cost-cutting has gutted this little piece of Americana.

4) Board games: The quality of the materials in a lot of board games has really declined. Whereas you used to get interesting metal figures to move around the board, today you're lucky to get even crappy plastic ones. And if you want the nice pieces, you have to buy the Special Edition, which costs 3X the normal kit.

5) Hot Wheels: Plastic and decals instead of metal and paint? Seriously??