Some 25 years ago, when I was a wee kid, the secretary at my rural Southland primary school got a spangly new electronic typewriter to replace her manual one. (When my daughter saw a manual typewriter recently, she didn't know what it was. She said in confusion, 'Look mummy - this computer keyboard isn't plugged into a computer'.) The kids at my school, myself included, gathered around the door and window of the secretary's office to see the electronic marvel in action. When it beeped, we gasped.
That was the beginning of mass-produced, readily available technology. Plastic or electronic goodies were so novel and fascinating to everyone - not just kids. But my siblings and I always envied those kids who got state of the art Christmas and birthday presents - for example, irksome bleeping games like Simon Says and Operation. Our family (and most others, I'd guess) did a lot of low-tech leisure stuff, like go to a local bush reserve to play. Petrol was relatively cheap, putting unthinking environmental destruction within reach of ordinary people. These things were fun - but they paled in comparison to the digital marvels of the wealthy, we felt as kids.
Thanks in large part to a a changed global economy, the world now abounds with the plastic, electronic rubbish that used to seem so marvellous. A workmate told me his kids got so sick of opening Christmas presents that, when his daughter had her birthday early in the New Year, she asked, 'Do I have to open more presents? Can I just have the cake?'.
My kids are similar. Their favourite Christmas present was bought on Trade Me. It was a swing, which cost five bucks and my pride (I hung it from the tree in our backyard on Christmas Eve, in the dark and the rain, while wearing my PJs).
The other low-tech activity currently giving my kids huge enjoyment is gardening. We bought three bucks worth of vege seedlings in the long weekend, and spent that time tidying our overgrown vege garden to plant them. My son, aged two and a half, contributed by helpfully using a trowel to relocate soil from the garden to the lawn. He stamps about on unwieldy toddler feet, crushing the plants he's trying to water, while mostly watering his own trousers. My seven year old daughter decided the garden would be organic, and (inexplicably) that she would replace chemical support with moral support in the form of talking to the plants. Since then, I've seen her several times crouched down and murmuring to the spinach. The little garden has given my kids hours of happiness, and will continue to, I think.
This is not one of those curmudgeonly tales that ends 'things were so much better in MY day'. It's just that kids enjoy novelty - so the grass, or spinach, will probably always be greener on the other side.