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Leggo my Lego, you mind-shrinking Danes

By Jason Offutt

My son likes Legos. Since he’s in second grade this makes him completely normal despite the obvious disadvantage of being that closely related to me.
I liked Legos at his age and, frankly still do. I fondly remember opening huge boxes of Legos at Christmas and marveling at what I could build with all those thousands of random pieces. Space ships, airplanes, guns, and the Jeeps, tanks, and helicopters for G.I. Joe my parents never bought me because of something to do with G.I. Joe vehicles costing more than the family car. Considering the types of auction cars Dad came home with that may have been accurate.
The LEGO Group (yes a silly name for a company, but it’s from Denmark) may still produce those huge boxes of Legos, but I wouldn’t know. The Legos from my youth have been supplanted by Lego sets of Star Wars spaceships, Lord of the Rings castles, and quite possibly, accurate to-scale nuclear power plants.
Part of the fun of Legos was sizing up a pile of rectangles, squares, wheels, and moveable pieces just to imagine what could be built, then sitting back with some satisfaction after I’d finished building it.
Now there are detailed instructions to ensure your Lego toy looks just like the picture on the side of the box.
This has something to do with society going out of its way to destroy itself.
The London Daily Mail headline was frightening: “Google generation who spend life in front of screens are losing creativity and skills.” Trevor Baylis, one of “Britain’s leading inventors,” claims children who are spoon-fed information are losing “creativity and practical skills” and are “often unable to make anything with their hands.”
Which is exactly what the LEGO Group is helping destroy. Don’t think about what you can create; let us tell you what you should build.
There is, however, one flaw in this line of reasoning that involves me. What second grader who’s not already enrolled in M.I.T. can sit in front of hundreds of pieces of plastic and put them together in the right order? That’s like giving a child a dictionary and asking them to recreate the first couple of pages of “War and Peace.”
Sure, having an exact replica of the X-Wing fighter Luke Skywalker used to blow up the Death Star is beyond cool (I want one, too), but if you don’t have to work to build it, is it really THAT cool? I mean, where’s the satisfaction of having made it yourself?
There’s no satisfaction for second graders because most of these blueprints require an engineering degree, and a decent knowledge of Spanish.
So, if young children aren’t putting these X-Wing fighters, and Eiffel Towers together, who is? Let’s turn to Twitter:
Jason’s tweet, 3:57 p.m., Dec. 27: Just finished putting together a 684-piece Lego set. Took me two hours. I still have a 1,094-piece set to assemble. I’m afraid.
Do you have any idea what 1,094 Lego pieces look like spread across a kitchen table? It looks like the comic book superhero Plastic Man threw up.
If anyone needs me in the next six months, I’ll be in my kitchen, helping the Danes destroy the western world.

Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.

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