Temporarily marooned without an internet connection. I’m typing in good old Wordpad. I can see the proper wireless connection on my computer, it trembles in the air, but when I choose it my browser mysteriously goes to a page that looks like it belongs to our internet service provider, telling me that I need to set up my modem again. As a paranoid whom the unruly Web has been training since 1997, I’ve tried simply restarting my computer, but the same behavior comes up. I’m going to wait till my mother gets up so she can log into her computer and see how hers behaves before I do anything extravagant like following the instructions - which would of course involve me giving identifying information to the putative service provider . . . Maybe we just forgot to pay the bill.
I’ve stumbled out into the kitchen in the cool of the morning and made coffee and taken my ADD pill (and for once remembered to take my blood pressure meds too - my ability to develop and keep daily habits is almost nonexistent, and it’s hard to remember the pills that “don’t do anything”). My head will still be waking up for a bit. I’ll open up the manuscript I’m editing in a little while (yes, I got that job, by the way), but in the meantime…
I am somewhat hoist on my own petard. I haven’t been journaling. And I mentioned to Arbi an ancient approach I used to use for that, and now I can’t escape the applicability of the helpful advice to myself. (. . . Interesting that my out-of-writing-gear self does feel cornered.)
At such times I used to turn to revisiting old diary entries - I’d look at them again, repost them with edits and new commentary, write something new on the same theme. It gave me something to put down . . . it can be better than the business of looking physically around me and seeing the same @#$#@$ stuff to write about (yes, mention THAT for the fourth time! YES, by all &$#@# MEANS!) . . .
And actually sometimes it can lead to very good things. The past accumulation of writing, of old thoughts, can give me a depth of mind to build on.
And sometimes What I Am(?) Trying To Do, in some senses that have been important to me at times when I have felt relatively awake, can suddenly pop out of the shrubbery.
(Man, I can tell that I haven’t been writing. Bad patterns getting in the way. An impulse to try to proceed by - not really digressing - but stopping at each paragraph and adding a figure of speech to amplify what I already said, and then elaborating further on the point of the figure of speech . . . Puddling rather than rivering. Edit-think rather than say-think. Enough.)
I just read a news story where Mattel, the toy corporation that makes Barbie, is slashing a huge number of jobs.
The reason for the layoffs at Mattel is that the giant toy store chain Toys R Us has gone bankrupt and has closed all its stores.
This is a worry fulfilled; it’s a problem that I’ve been aware of for a long time. I remember writing about it in my diary, long ago. It may not even be the first time that I’ve gone back and found that entry.
So, with that increasingly irritating advice to Arbi rattling in my brain (what is this boggy reluctance that comes with a period of not writing?!), I opened the text file and did a search for the word “toys” . . .
The hits on “toys” took me through some interesting places, maybe more interesting than what follows, depending. I may soon be revisiting those things as well.
Finally I found the entry I remembered. Here it is:
*Toys, giant stores, and real economies - 11/28/2004*
A note on how things woiks.
Here's [the link is long dead] a news story on how Toys R Us (a supergiant toy retailer in the U.S., for any foreign reader) now has lots of toys that are only sold exclusively through its chain.
In this case, what I wanted to point at is only this paragraph - about why the toy manufacturers are so willing now to give a single chain of stores exclusives on selling their toys:
It is also evidence of just how badly toy manufacturers want Toys R Us to succeed. If Toys R Us is sold off, toy makers could face an industry dominated by Wal-Mart, which devotes less space to toys and tries to negotiate the absolute lowest product prices, toy makers say.
The moral of the story:
It is possible to get very magical-minded about the market and the price system. Sometimes to the point of religious faith. It is possible to get the idea that market forces (and that too-abusable metaphor I hate, “the invisible hand”) will constantly lead to more and better everything, till everyone has the very best goods and services that are possible.
The above is what’s missed. The market can find and optimize toward points of stability of all sorts, for all kinds of specific, distinctly real-world, non-magical reasons.
The market, working hard and efficiently, can give you a world with a dismal, crappy selection of toys.
Looking at this entry now, I can see I was mostly in a mood to say something general about broad-brush economics or about bloviating thereupon. But I’m not in that mood now. So - with Toys R Us now actually gone - let’s walk through this a little more slowly.
What the closure of Toys R Us means is that the . . . ecosystem, if you will . . . for toys, physical toys, has drastically shrunk. It has shrunk to the literal space allocated to toys in general department stores. At most, probably at Wal-Mart, perhaps three aisles. More usually a single dedicated aisle, or one side of that aisle. Think of what there’s room for in there. Think of the stores selecting items to fill it.
To this . . . from all those huge Toys R Us buildings. The comparison to species and ecosystems is exact.
What other venues are there for toys?
There are a couple of much smaller dedicated toy store chains, of a boutique upscale (did I say “expensive” twice?) nature. FAO Schwartz is one. Ingenious toys. High quality. But those stores are very few.
And there is the internet, there’s Amazon.
Which is a double whammy.
You can get a toy that you know you want through Amazon. It is absolutely certain that you can get that. Which is where the increasingly dismal financial picture for Toys R Us came from.
But . . . BUT . . .
Can you, no, do you, wander through the Amazon website and SEE toys that you did not already want? And pick them up and buy them? Can little kids? Does the process work that way?
Mostly the answer is no. It does not work that way. Not very much.
And - regardless - Amazon will remain the reason why little FAO Schwartz cannot grow up and become the new mighty, ubiquitous Toys R Us that parents and children will wander through.
What is going to happen is that consumer habits and consumer demand will follow the suddenly changed shopping picture.
And there’ll be a mass extinction in toys. In toymaking, in toy manufacturing. The greats will suffer and may teeter. The little outfits?
In the U.S. and to a lesser extent all over the world, to the extent that the U.S. is a giant market. . . . To a somewhat lesser extent. Probably. I am not entirely sure of this. Because - I know it’s a big world, with big markets elsewhere, and of course other countries have toys that the U.S. doesn’t . . . but, though I say this without having looked, how many other gigantic chains of huge toy stores, specifically, can there be in the world? The ruthless logic of dedicated, common toy stores vs. aisle 13b means that any such outlets are of outsize importance no matter where the makers and where the outlets are. Toys R Us may have been just one elbow that toymakers in countries far from the U.S. were leaning on, but there had to have been some fair weight on that elbow.
Games, physical games, will do a little better. Many of them will. Certainly board games have colonized bookstores in a remarkable organized breakout, and they are going through the most incredible Renaissance that I am embarrassed not to be a part of. But the loss of Toys R Us will definitely not be without effect there either.
Toys . . .
Don’t we get into . . . well . . . civilizational issues there? I could mumble about the still I think poorly understood matter of child development, but also perhaps just intrinsically. On the “what is civilization for?” line, or “what is higher civilization?”. What is a civilization with lots and lots of kinds of wonderful toys . . . compared to a civilization where the toys are whichever ones can be found in the five-meter toy aisle at Target?
Was this the idea?
The grown-ups are asleep at the switch.
I guess that is an entry. Maybe the next one will be uplifting.
You can see that I got back online. It was for real; Centurylink simply required this. And there was no problem with our account. So I went through the set-up again.
I opted to use the options already stored on the device (so they plainly hadn’t been wiped) . . .
. . . and I believe that the exercise was purely a way to get me to sign an end-user license agreement that may have been revised.
I read such things more nowadays. And I noticed that this one now waives the option of a jury trial should there be any dispute, rules out participation in class action, and commits me to mandatory arbitration.
On Facebook I briefly noted the experience and then, apropos of nothing, strongly recommended the wonderful film Temple Grandin, about the real person, whose work designing reassuring, trouble-free chutes for cattle has been so extraordinary. So far, no one has gotten the joke.
Last updated July 30, 2018