Monday, January 07, 2008


Sleds are going downhill

I recently talked about some sociological costs of technology. The New York Times tells us about another:

New Yorkers who didn’t already have a sled stashed in their closet that morning might have been out of luck: Toy retailers, both in the city and across the country, have largely pushed sleds and toboggans off their shelves and out of their catalog pages.


Once the quintessential under-the-tree gift, wooden sleds have largely disappeared from the holiday shopping mix, victims of warmer weather, which makes scooters more appealing, and the changing taste of children, who might prefer a Sony PlayStation or Nintendo Wii.

The remaining manufacturers market them mainly as nostalgia items or serious sporting equipment intended for ski slopes. And increasingly, the sleds that do show up in toy and sporting goods stores are the disposable plastic kind, impulsively bought and easily forgotten on the local hill at the end of the day.

Yes, the interest that kids have in high-tech toys — and high-tech pastimes in general — has supplanted their interest in the Flexible Flyer, to, as I see it, the detriment of both. (And yes, they’re also blaming milder winters... another consequence of climate change.)

I lived in New York City, in Brooklyn, when I was small, before we moved to south Florida (um, no sledding there, even without global warming), and I have very fond memories of sledding down a hill in Prospect Park, and of using the pedestrian overpass as a sled-hill at times. That was some 45 years ago, but only 15 years ago the cafeteria at our office sent a memo warning us of higher food prices if we didn’t stop taking the trays and using them as sleds on the hill in front of the building. We’re just a bunch of over-age kids sometimes, really we are.

And it saddens me to think that so many kids would rather play a game called “Xtreme Mega-Luge” on their PlayStations... than go out on a sunny winter’s day after a snow, and sled down a hill with their friends, laughing and shrieking and enjoying the outdoors.

So there’s the cost of that bit of technology: kids can now play video games all year ’round that let them pretend they’re racing in the snow... but when they really can race in the snow, it’s not a special thing any more. It’s too low-tech.

Calvin and Hobbes cartoon about sledding


Maggie said...

I do not actually believe that -- that children would rather play a video game than sled. My girls enjoy video games, but they would much, much rather play outside doing something fast and fun like sledding or scootering or riding their bikes (or in the summer, swimming or playing on a playground). It's just that these are not activities we'll let them do alone, so there has to be a dedicated adult involved. I think families are so busy, it's much easier to give the kids a wii and plop them in front of that than find time to do something together like sledding. It could also be that children are more sophisticated (jaded?) and think they should be "boogie boarding," or whatever it's called (that's probably a very outdated and uncool name, I've no idea). When we went sledding in our big snow in December, there was a family attempting to boogie board right next to us. And we went sledding on plastic sleds I picked up at the end of the season two years ago for $1 or $2 (I can't remember) each, and they worked fine. Who needs an expensive L.L.Bean wooden sled, especially in a southern NE winter, which could be all blizzards one year and nothing for the next five?

I don't think the issue is that children don't like to sled. I think there are other issues: sleds don't need to be expensive, and parents are generally involved in the sledding and are busy so they have less opportunity to do it. That's my take.

Dylan said...

There were some sleds and tobogans to be found this holiday season. I found some for my kids at which were much cheaper than expected (because they always seem to find good prices.

I guess when you can't find them elsewhere, you can always find them online!

Dr. Momentum said...

Basically "What Maggie Said."

You can have as much fun with a cheap plastic sled as you can with a fancy wood-and-runner jobber.

They don't sell so many music boxes anymore now that there are iPods.

But if kids aren't getting out there it's because our society has pushed parents to the breaking point of busy-ness in our country which seems to put work before everything else. Force adults to take more weeks of vacation per year and you will see more sledding. Guaranteed.