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Originally posted on December 21, 2012 at 12:15 AM

I attended an office gift exchange yesterday and my Secret Santa gave me the same thing I’d given her: Starbuck’s gift cards. That was okay except I’ve pretty much given up drinking coffee except in one or two contexts and I don’t need the sweets. The whole thing got me thinking about Holiday gifts in general and how stocking stuffers have transformed from oranges and Yo-yos and decks of playing cards when I was a kid (yes folks, really, truly) to palm pilots and cell phones.

A great deal has been said and written about how electronics pretty much rule the lives of young people in particular from computers large and small to personal communication devices to online networks which I don’t even particularly want to comprehend. Recent events which I’ve already spoken of in this blog again strongly suggest that among our most dangerous neighbors is a propensity for certain kinds of militaristic video games. Of course I’m not saying that anyone who plays a mass destruction video game is a sociopath or will become one but in the last 20 years or so I have noticed a tendancy toward turning Inward among younger people.

What I mean by Inward is a tendency to look into the system whether it be a computer game, a communication network such as Facebook, or a cellpphone which plays games with you and shows you the weather while you’re waiting for that all-important call. All this is going on Inside the system, network app, whatever.

I’m not decrying electronics. I’m a technologist myself and electronics are one of the most enormously transforming growth industries of the last century or so but shouldn’t we expect even more? Computers, phones, cyber nets do stupendous things within electronic memory. They certainly flummox me and I’m a reasonably good programmer. If you look at some of the things a person can dooutside the network, by this I mean from the network outward, we can see that we might be unnecessarily limiting ourselves.

This Christmas I bought matching lasers for my grown-up daughter and her friend. This is something I could only (and did) dream about when I was younger. What do you use a personal laser for? Hell, whatever you use a laser for, burn stuff, melt stuff, pop balloons!   Take a look at The Cupcake CNC at makerbot.com and you’ll see a way to externalize a computers thoughts into something you can hold in your hand and use for many, many purposes. There are teaching robots which are essentially mobile erector sets with access to PC brains which can be modified and augmented in myriad ways. It’s possible to fly a model airplane a hydroplane or a helicopter from the computer. All these things get give us the gritty, challenging, often frustrating texture of real world experience and since the science fiction days of the 1950s I haven’t heard of a roboticist who committed mass murder.

Certainly let’s give our kids, spouses, students, computers and communication devices but for Goddess sake let’s give them also things to hook up to them which help them understand and utilize the wondrous variety of phenomena, effects and processes going on in the world around us. Let’s build a miniaturized, electronically controlled winery with the output of which we may toast the future!