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2009: Making Things Real Again

Friday, January 2, 2009 Leave a Comment

Jeffrey Luppino-Esposito EDITOR

It’s 2009. We are 3 years away from our supposed destruction on Earth. We are 9 years past our last supposed destruction on Earth. We are in transition, I suppose. Yet, allow me to say this again. It’s 2009. Why does it still feel like the year 2000? How has it been 9 years?

It couldn’t be my personal place in time—the jump from age 10 to 19 is prime meat for some coming-of-age paperback. It sure as hell isn’t the lack of excitement on the larger scale… did I say excitement, I meant bloodshed. Same thing I guess. So what is missing? Are we disappointed? Is this what happens when you survive what you shouldn’t have and are just floating in time and space until your next chance to end… or start over?

Dear friends. Wait, can I call you that? I hope so. Dear friends, I’ve been thinking about all this a lot lately, and believe it or not, I’m pretty sure that we, you and I, may actually be able to figure this out, together.

1990 was nearly 20 years ago. Just had to say that again so we’re all on the same page. You remember the 90’s though, right? Pretty clearly, I bet. You remember the things. The solid things that you could hold in your hand and buy and trade and hoard because you believed that one day they’d be worth something. But, where are those things now?

No, I don’t mean the physical items; I’m sure the beanie babies are in your basement with the pogs and the power rangers and the everything else that meant the world to you or your son or daughter. I mean where are the physical items today.

Think about what you heard in the news this holiday season. Or rather, what you didn’t hear. No reports of parents brawling in Toys R Us over the last action figure in stock. Was there a popular doll, or true toy of any kind? The answer is simply ‘no’.

What were the gifts this year instead? Iphones, definitely. But that’s for the ‘grown ups’, what about the kids? The Wii? Yes, it sold well, but who is that for? More parents find themselves playing the mindless recreations of reality on that system than kids anyway. Or they try to make it a ‘family’ occasion, ha.

Regardless of their intended market, these aren’t even highly accessible products. They are wildly expensive, and even if they are purchased, they can’t be ‘played with’ or imagined upon in the way that the fads of the 90s and the toys of the past could.

Can kids not be ‘kids’ anymore because the simple pleasures and unimpressive little toys don’t exist? More importantly, is this what modern parent wants? A leap out of childhood and into the big boy world since it’s going to happen eventually anyway?

I think of the kids today because when I imagine the 90’s it comes with the weight of my own childhood. It’s a light load. One filled with insignificant physical items that I could hold and buy and trade and hoard. They were items that we could all afford in some capacity, and they were celebrated for what they were on an extremely basic level.

I’m not asking you to throw away technology. I’m asking you to consider the effects that a lack of ‘things’ can have on a people. I don’t think I’m being bias either. I know, I know you’re thinking—of course you’re bias, you’re nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ that you’ve convinced yourself of having actually existed in your pigeon hole of the living experience. No no, my dear friend (if I can still call you that), the kids are saying it too. The kids who never even knew these days of yore are saying it subconsciously.

Go to YouTube or some other popular website (go ahead, use your iphone, that’s probably what they’re using too). See how many young children have accounts. A lot, right? Ok, well, that’s not the problem, but we’re almost there. Now go look to see their comments on other videos or articles or whatever it is that the website offers. Pretty harsh, huh? If you look close enough you’ll see some ridiculously high expectations and remarkably critical comments out of 12 year olds.

Is it that these kids are just so much more advanced than I was 10 years ago that they require incredibly high quality entertainment when I could be pleased by just tooling around with some Ninja Turtles action figures? I highly doubt that. What I do believe, however, is that they are telling us something.

The youth of this decade are showing us very clearly that they are aware that something is missing. The world of the internet and virtual reality demands higher expectations out of kids at ages that once required only a basic piece of molded plastic to keep them pleasantly distracted. They demand more because they instinctively distrust and are underwhelmed by the invisible world that they are being forced to grow up (quickly) into.

At some level, I believe, they are mindful of the fact that the intangible is not nearly as satisfying as the physical. They don’t need to know if these physical items ever existed or what they were or could be. They just feel the absence. For those of us observing, we become keenly aware of it because we once held (and bought and traded and hoarded) the items that they unknowingly lack.

We are between two supposed ends of the world. If we are a people in transition, then it is all the more necessary that we find things to hold onto again. At the very least, for the sake of the kids. We are an extremely demanding body of internet users because we too know that we are missing something as we float around in this invisible abyss. The worst part, unlike the kids, is that we actually know what it is we’re missing. Or maybe, just maybe, that’s the best part—because we can do something about it.

In the year 2000 we thought the world was going to end because all the computers were going to get confused and lead to our demise. It’s as if we knew what was coming in the next decade. Even if the world didn’t end, we were right to be afraid. Let’s not allow the 0’s and 1’s scare us so damn much anymore.

In 2009, make an effort to find something physical in your life that means something to you. That’s right, I’m asking you to be materialistic this year. Print out some of your favorite photos off of Facebook, frame them. Go buy some toys for yourself. Hell, a board game, I don’t care, just do it. Put down the guitar hero, go buy a real guitar. Most importantly, for you parents out there, put back the Wii. Go outside and have a catch—with a real ball and a real glove with your real child, simply because you can, and because it will make a real difference.

Happy New Year, my dear friends.

Enjoy more articles from Jeff!


  • Anonymous said:  

    the subject of every meaninful conversation i've had in the last few weeks, except with more wit and better said.


  • Michael said:  

    very well-put, my dear friend

  • Diane said:  

    thank you very much for that

  • Christine said:  

    agreed and appreciated

  • JMo said:  

    Very cool Jeff, I'm with you 100%. There is definitely an element of tactile, material experience that's missing from the 'virtual lives' of this generation, and that element is vital to us as human beings if we want to avoid ending up like the 12 year old youtube antagonists that you describe.

  • Anonymous said:  

    i love it. kids this generation have become too extremely dependent on technology. well said. thanks.

  • Jonathan said:  

    Jeff you are too insightful. Leave your girlfriend for me now.

  • ProverbsMoma said:  

    I was raised in the 50's - You are a very sensible young man. Hopefully many will listen to your suggestions-my advice to you-if you are a sedate person-get outside and enjoy a sport-if you are already active-learn something new-work on a different part of your brain regularly and it will help keep your senses keen and you won't get bored of life. Happy New Year! ////

  • AAC said:  

    Great stuff, Jeffrey. I'm not necessarily one for materialism, but yes, kids should be kids and play with little plastic toys instead of critiquing YouTube videos. Plus, reality is so much cooler than virtuality (I just made up another word) anyday.

  • Claire said:  

    you're so cool AAC!

  • Dirty Butter said:  

    I really enjoyed reading your post. We have never grown past that stage of wanting toys that could be loved into real. The Velveteen Rabbit and Corduroy have always been my favorite children's books.

    We work hard on our Plush Memories Lost Toys Search Service to help people find backups and replacements for their little one's lost lovies and also toys from the parent's childhoods. It is extremely rare that anyone asks for help finding high tech toys. They just don't develop strong emotional attachments to these toys that do so much.

  • Mary G said:  

    We gave our grandkids snowshoes (the 5 yr old) and ski pants (the 16 yr old) this year.
    I got a new phone.
    Go figure.
    Great post.

  • Anonymous said:  

    I want to thank Jenn for recommending this well written piece. As a mother of a ninth month old and a teacher I agree with you. Thank you for reminding us and I can't wait to read more of your writing Jeffery.

  • Jeff Luppino-Esposito said:  

    Thank you so much for all the support everyone! I really appreciate it!

    I'll definitely have to thank Jenn (Mrs. Luiken to me actually!) as well for getting it into your hands!

  • Sarah said:  

    Dearest Gods of Popsense Goodness,
    I was reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (chapter 2) and this one part reminded me a lot about what this article is getting across. Granted, I read this article as soon as you posted, but just now reading the book this article immediately came to mind. It’s kinduv a long passage, bear with me, I swear it’s relevant.
    “However, something struck me about this dialogue: it was uncharacteristic for Katie to be so unwilling to tell harmless lies. If she had been playing with her Barbie Dream House and I asked her why Barbie had four pairs of shoes but only two decent outfits, Katie would have undoubtedly spent the next half hour explaining that Barbie purchased the extra shoes while shopping in Hong Kong with Britney spears and planned to wear them to a cocktail party in Grandma’s basement. When playing with real world toys, there’s no limit to the back story Katie will create for anything, animate or inanimate. That’s how little kids are. But somehow it’s different when life is constructed on a sixteen-inch screen; in the world of the SIMS Katie won’t color outside the lines of perception. The rules become fixed. Fabricating a Sim-human college experience would be no different than randomly deciding that 90210’s Brenda Walsh got a C+ in tenth grade biology. Those facts aren’t available to anyone. Clearly video technology cages imagination, it offers interesting information to use but it implies that all peripheral information is irrelevant and off-limits. Computers make children advance faster, but they also make them think like computers.”

  • Jeff Luppino-Esposito said:  


    I couldn't agree more, and I'm glad that you picked up on the connection from that passage to my article! Also, great to see you reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, we're huge fans of Chuck over here on PopSense, so you are clearly in good graces in our book!

    Thanks for all the support and critical thought!

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