Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the "New York Antiquarian Book Fair". I try to attend every year as I love books, am fascinated by history and enjoy gazing at a first edition Wizard of Oz or an original Gutenberg Bible. I also get a kick out of seeing the occasional toy that is on display.
It was with this in mind that I came upon something I had never seen, a talking book from the 1880's. Entitled The Speaking Picture Book (see above), it features tassels, that when pulled, make various animal sounds. I asked the books owner to take it out of the display case so I could look closer. When I asked him how it worked, I was amazed when he pulled the various cords on the side of the book and sounds emerged, clear as they were in the 1880's.
I heard a "mooooo" and a "meowwww" and recognized the technology as some kind of sound emitting rubber bladder. It was 1890's high tech.
We, of course, have talking books today…our version of high tech. But in essence, a talking book is a talking book, no matter what is inside. And, of course, a talking doll is a talking doll. Just consider Thomas Edison's "Phonograph Doll". Interestingly, it was created at about the same time as the talking book but featured a more advanced technology, a miniature cylinder record player.
19th century parents (and toy company presidents, I am sure) were both fascinated and appalled by technology based toys. 21st century parents take all of it for granted. After all, to them, technology is technology whether its a simple rubber bladder or a diode. To the child who gets to take advantage of it, it is magical in the moment and later in adulthood just another gadget.
So why do some in the toy industry still feel threatened by technology, Maybe it's not just technology that seems to disturb so much as "new" technology. Hopefully, as Millennials eventually take their place as senior level toy executives, the toy industry will have a group of leaders that will embrace rather than run from the cutting edge.
But when I think about it, probably not. After all, those new leaders may have to confront a technology toy that will actually be implanted in a future child's brain.