Kids India Toy Fair 2018 – Part2

In the Out of Our Minds book, Sir Ken Robinson elaborately explained about the “septic focus” of education system. He took the jovial example of his friend Dave visiting his doctor for a kidney problem due to heavy beer drinking. The doctor in turn advises him to change to spirits that will avoid more damages to his kidneys. In reply to Dave’s concern about spirit may cause cirrhosis of the liver, doctor said “But you haven’t come to see me about your liver, am concerned about your kidneys.”

It sounded like meeting someone from the same school of thoughts at Kids India 2018 (a yearly B2B toy fair) event held at Mumbai. There was a penal discussion from the experts of toy industry, and during the conversation there was a reference about Robotic toys, yes Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered toys. Evidently the people behind such business justified the need of such robotic toys to resolve the emotional needs of the kids of working parents. They had all the facts and figures from the sample surveyed among metro cities of India to support their claims. Conventional toys do not interact with the kid well and the digital devices that interact smartly (Smart Phones and Tablets) are making them addict. So here is the solution the world was waiting for, the AI powered toy. This robot will accompany the kid right from waking up in the morning to listen to their bedtime stories. In between they will play and robot will share the wise tips (powered by the great Internet) for the benefit of the child be it related to nutritional food to eat, education, life skills, behavior etc. Thus it will act like a companion and serve to whatever extent the emotional needs of a child. Nearly perfect solution for the super busy parents in need.

To me the whole concept of serving the emotional needs of a child at the advent of a robot looks fundamentally incorrect. But in this industrialized world of today everything sells if one can spend fortune on advertising. So here is the product that is invented to help your child get rid of Smart Phone, Tablet and TV (in short it will reduce their screen time) thus cater to their emotions and of course the intelligence too. All in all, this seems like happy ending for those in need, until one shifts focus from septic to holistic.

It may look great to see such sensitive social issues been addressed by advanced technological toys, but have we thought about the after effects of giving AI enabled toys to our children? Are we not giving our children to the robots? No doubt, the makers of these robo-toys are not fools to miss the safety aspects. There must be ample builtin safety features but then there were Child Locks in the age old TV sets and Kid Mode in most Smart Phones, did it help them? Of course not, the human being always outsmarts such technology be it the child on this side or the hackers on the other.

Hope this post evokes some serious thoughts about consequences of giving such hi-tech toys to kids.

Kids India Toy Fair 2018 – Part1

I was privileged to visit Kids India 2018, Mumbai a yearly B2B toy fair event. It attracts large number of toy manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, designers, educational institutes, franchisers, licensors, advertising and marketing agencies across the country with a handful of foreign nation stalls and persons. At fair, everything right from secure QR code scanned entry to food to loo was meticulously planned, each stall was dazzling with LED lights, toys from around the world and sales people networking tirelessly for making that great deal, it was a busy day for everyone. No wonder there has to be a stall for world’s largest toy maker befitting its grandeur, the Hasbro stall. Unlike all the other stalls those were open within the fair premises, this was fully enclosed and guarded with additional level of security and cameras. One has to disarm all the belongings including digital devices to view the things meant for kids playing. A limited number of visitors were permitted at a time, get toured by a dedicated representative throughout the Hasbro stall. Our batch was greeted by a young gentleman, and with little exchange about our profiles he started introducing their best selling range of toys, Transformers, Star Wars, Disney, My Little Pony, Baby Alive, NERF to name a few.

Among all them, the Baby Alive caught my attention, specially his reference about how their advanced nurturing dolls could interact with the child. There is whole range of these baby dolls such as dolls that will interact with the child to ask for noodles, ice-cream, sip water, paint nails etc. They play, they cry, they eat an drink, they even poop the eaten noodles, wet the diaper so the child has to change it. Well, this post is not meant to endorse Hasbro products, so I’m limiting the other finer details about Baby Alive but there is much more to it. There are lot of consumable items, and people generally are motivated to buy them separately. This is not about giving vent to exploiting tactics of toy companies, since each customer had made a conscious decision before the purchase. This is about praising the researchers and toy designers behind the success of Baby Alive. They have given lot of thought for designing each element of these dolls, so that a child enjoys nurturing it. Coming to the point, as per shastra, it is the inherent nature of human being to serve somehow or other to the Lord. As one’s consciousness elevates, his scope of serving grows from oneself to family to nation to all beings.

dāsa bhūtamidaṁ tasya jagatsthāvara jangamam
śhrīmannārāyaṇa swāmī jagatānprabhurīśhwaraḥ

The Supreme Lord Narayan is the controller and the Lord of the world. All moving and non-moving beings and entities in this creation are His servants.” – Padma Puran

This is really great to learn serving others at the very little age. Apart from having fun, if such mechanized and electronically operated dolls are expected to teach children to serve, than what to speak of their interaction with the younger siblings? Of course, all the children cannot have a little sibling but they can have little cousins or neighbors’ kids. Also, how many dolls one would need to teach each little thing about nurturing babies. Apart from babies, there are birds, animals, insects, plants, trees and huge list of elements comprising the mother nature to serve to. We will end up creating plastic babies, mommies & grannies, animals, things and may be an artificial toy city centered around a kid, that very few privileged can afford. Big companies are investing big time in identifying and exploiting such human psychologies at the cost of nature. If we the parents, the ultimate well-wisher of the child, dig deeper about their actual needs and bring a little change of mindset, we can provide even richer experience than these heavily marketed expensive toys, almost freely.

Somebody aptly summarized it into the famous proverb “It takes a village to raise a child“.