Friday, February 23, 2007

Step 1: play with dolls. Step 3: raise a family. Step 2: a lost art?

Of all the carnival of calamities chronicled in Mark Steyn's new book America Alone, there remains one from Japan that stays in my mind:

"At the beginning of the century, [Japan's] toymakers noticed they had a problem: toys are for children and Japan doesn't have many. What to do? In 2005, Tomy began marketing a new doll called Yumel -- a baby boy with a range of 1,200 phrases designed to serve as a companion for the elderly. He says not just the usual things -- "I wuv you" -- but also asks the questions your grandchildren would ask, if you had any: "Why do elephants have long noses?"

Mark Steyn, "America Alone", page 25

Connecting with others is one of the greater challenges, and most rewarding of triumphs, we humans can experience. It is by giving a little of ourselves, that we gain the most from others; the sacrifices going into raising a child can be more than matched by the joys offered by grandchildren, or so my grandparents always made a point of teaching me. We might declare that we are happy being mere islands to ourselves, living for the moment, and it might be even be true... for the moment. There surely comes a time, however, when our ability to feel useful, to feel alive, to feel human, depends on the connections we make with others. This must be true, for there to be such a demand for these "healing dolls"(thanks to Toykotimes):

Tomy’s new toy is being billed as a ‘healing’ doll, and whereas similar products are aimed at daytime use, Yumel is being touted as a nighttime companion.
Project leader Osamu Kiriseko claims that, “You need to enjoy the night together if you really hope to live with a doll.”
With this in mind, the name Yumel comes from the word ‘yume’ (dream), and it’s designed to look like a sleepy baby boy - albeit one with big and black manga-esque eyes.

And to further enhance the sleepiness factor, the toy is equipped with six sensors and an IC chip, allowing the doll to accurately keep track of its owners sleeping patterns. Thus Yumel starts the day with a breezy “Good morning,” and ends it with drooping eyelids and a drowsy “Good night” after a quick pat on the chest makes it ‘fall asleep’.

Back to Mark Steyn:

"Yumel joins his friend Snuggling Ifbot, a toy designed to have the conversation of a five-year old child, which its makers, with the usual Japanese efficiency, have determined is just enough chit-chat to prevent the old folks going senile."

Also from Tokyotimes, a helpful description of Snuggling Ifbot's helpful nature:

As an example of the robot’s capabilities, given the question, “Today I’m in bad health,” the ifbot responds with, “Perhaps you are overtired. Why don’t you rest today?” And using its internal clock, it can join in a conversation about the weather by knowing what season it is. An absolute necessity it would seem when dealing with the weather obsessed elderly.

We give our children dolls and toys in order to teach them the warmth that can come from connecting with others, to take others into our confidence and above all, to teach the inner strength that can develop from embracing others, and to live for a little bit more than merely ourselves. The lesson needs to start there, not end there; a means to an end. Somehow this lesson is becoming a dead end, and the result is a lifetime spent hugging only toys, and not other, fellow human beings.
I leave it to Mark Steyn to close the circle:
"It seems an appropriate comment on the social-democratic state: in a childish infantilized self-absorbed society where adults have been stripped of all responsibility, you need never stop playing with toys. We are the children we never had."


zazie said...

"a lifetime spent hugging only toys and not other...human beings"
This sounds so true that it hurts ; it reminds me of a short poem I read, back in the 70's ; it was about "landing on the moon" and said about this : I can see the surface of the moon in the box of my living room ; communications are...boundless : only between man and man they have broken down...
I have lost this text ; if you know it, can you let me have it ? Thanks anyway for the post about the "old people's doll".

dag said...

I get mixed up: is Camus' journal comment "The man I would be if not for the child that I was"? or is it "The man I would be if not for the child that I am"?

"Infantalisation." along with "philobarbarism" it's one of my favorites; and like "dhimmitude," it spreads because the three words are meaningful to our time in ways they haven't been previiously. But who are we going to pass these things on to? Not just odd words but the whole of the West and its good, its bad, its ugly? Yeah, even life. Who is going to have it from us?

Charles Henry said...

I'm afraid I don't know the poem, but you've got me very interested! I did a quick search but haven't found anything on the internet yet.. do you remember the title?
We do seem to be navigating in a time of great contradictions: we are in the "information age", yet are surrounded by such ignorance, we have all these time-saving devices yet no spare time (or maybe I just speak for myself on that one..), we can make great art with all the wonderful technology at our finger-tips, and all we use it for are embarrassing juvenalia.
(although again maybe I shouldn't throw stones, what with the videos I've been making... )

zazie said...

@ Charles Henry,
I am not sure, I think the title was "Landing on the Moon, July 20TH 1969", and it started with "the poor are still poor..." ; if I do not mistake it for another poem, the author might be Edna Roberts ; That was the sort of texts I used to give my pupils, instead of tepid articles from conventional papers as could be found in the "official" textbooks ; the inspector disliked it, but we (my pupils and I) enjoyed it ! I'll try to check Edna Roberts through Google.