As generations come into our world, they are born into it with no real appreciation for what the world was like before their entrance to it. For you and me, it is likely inconceivable to think of a world not crawling with cars or without the ease of traveling overseas via planes. And yet, in the grand scale of time, those world-altering additions to our life are barely a blip on the planet's radar. The rising generation, now entering the workforce, have lived a life connected to and on display via the Internet.
But our children? They will grow up not just playing and interacting with what we see as technology-driven, inanimate objects. No, they will grow up with toys and entertainment that play back. Let's take a look at a few of the technological innovations released to consumers in October.
-- "Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures." Skylanders is more than just a video game available for all of the current game systems; it's a collection of toys and playsets that interact with the game. Typically in a video game, you save your character's progress via the console's hard drive or memory card. Skylanders does that, but takes it a step further; the game also saves your character's stats in the toy itself! This way, you can take the toy of your character over to a friend's house and play with that toy on their game system. The toy is no longer a piece of plastic that you surround with imagination during play; the toy keeps the time you've played together saved inside it.
-- "Cars 2 Appmates." There are sure to be cultural studies in the future about how growing up with touch screens and iPads have changed the way the newly born generation interacts with and even understands the world around them. (Have seen the YouTube video where the baby thinks a magazine is broken because the images don't change when she touches it?). But even today, available right now, there are toys that augment playtime with interactive apps. It used to be that a child would take a toy car and drive it around the edges of the couch or up the legs of a table. Now, your child can take a toy and just place it on an iPad to drive around a city.
Simply put the car on the iPad, push in on the sides, and your car is driving around town. The iPad becomes a playmat; if you drive the car up a ramp, the background pulls away to make it look like you just made a sweet jump. If you pull up next to another Cars character, they will talk to you. Today, this is new and amazing to us. To our children. they'll never remember a time when toys didn't just do that.
-- "Sesame Street TV" for Xbox Kinect. Sesame Street has always sought to engage children by asking them to count along or answer questions during the program. Up until now, Elmo never really knew if you counted correctly or got the answer right. But what if you got it wrong, and Elmo encouraged you and gave you hints on how to get it right? In October Microsoft announced that, through the Kinect (a device that tracks your body movements and responds to voice), they will be releasing a series of special interactive episodes of Sesame Street and "Nat Geo TV." Through the Xbox and Kinect, children will get to interact directly with Big Bird or the Cookie Monster as the Sesame Street TV show goes fully interactive. You will be able to talk back to the characters and even play games with the lovable characters. The key is that this isn't a "video game" with "computer graphics" -- this looks and is filmed just like a regular episode ... except now the characters can hear and respond to your child's voice and actions. Our children will grow up not understanding why some cartoons don't actually react and talk back to them.
Three major consumer releases, directed specifically for children, all released or announced in the month of October. Three releases that will fundamentally change the way that our children play with the world around them -- and they will never know that the world was different. We live in such a fast-paced, constantly changing culture that these kinds of technology innovations almost seem normal.
If all this happened in the past 30 days, what will next year bring to the newly born generation? And what will one of them invent 20 years from now, having grown up surrounded by this deep interactivity and connectedness? How will you react to the next, magical thing?
Aaron Linne is executive producer of digital marketing for the B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He writes a monthly technology column for Baptist Press.
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