Thursday, August 7, 2008

Something From Nothing

I do not recall in which of the Superman movies it was, but one of the characters took a special pen, drew a butterfly on the floor and watched as it instantly came to life, took off and flew away. In Star trek one would simply instruct the computer to provide a cup of "Early Grey. Hot", and the beverage would instantly materialize for your drinking pleasure.

I once saw an ingenious invention where the user would input a diagram or digital image of a mechanism into the machine and it would build a 3D representation of it using sand and glue. For example, you could feed the machine a diagram of a ball and socket. The machine would start whizzing away and build a working 3D model of it for you. Naturally, it took a really long time to produce such a thing, layer by layer. Also, the accuracy was not perfect and it was limited in its complexity. The 3D model was also not particularly sturdy, given the materials it was made from, but the idea that you can draw a two-dimensional picture and turn it into a physical reality so quickly is amazing.

Now, you might say that this is not so fantastic. After all, take any carpenter, for example, who would sketch a table on a piece of paper and turn that design into a real piece of furniture. An architect does the same sort of thing. However, the difference here is that anyone, without any skills to create something with his own hands, can actually partake of both the design and creation process. It is an exciting concept.

One of the oldest toy companies in America, FAO Schwartz (est. 1862), provides a similar activity for elementary school kids They have a service called “Imagine it”, where the child sits down at a kindergarten-sized table and, using nothing more than a Crayola Crayon, scrap paper and the world perception of a six-year-old, designs their own clothes. The drawing is then passed on to an eagerly awaiting staff of expert tailors who then proceed to create a life-size real version of the child’s drawing. Nifty.

The problem with this is that kids have wonderful imaginations. A third-grader would never design an outfit comprising blue-jeans and a T-shirt. Boring. They are more likely to draw a gaudy, glittering, colorful outfit which, if brought to life, would render them the school’s laughing stock. Come to think of it, that’s probably how fashion was designed in the 1980s.

I had to check this out, so I took a look at the FAO Schwartz website and came to the following conclusion: normally you would sit your kids down to draw pictures as a way of passing time, entertaining them and releasing their creative juices. Drawing can be a wonderful learning experience and fantastic for a child’s development in many ways. But for $900 a dress, you might want to consider reading them a story, instead.