Et Tu LEGO?
The cost of a digital manual for the ultimate analog toy
Like most six year olds, my son is rightly obsessed with LEGO. It began a few years back, during the heart of the pandemic, when he found a Ninjago Spinjitsu figure in a bin of hand-me-down toys in our basement. During endless school closures and weeks home with a sniffle, we relied on fresh LEGO sets to keep him and his older sister entertained and engaged in blissful brick building. His sister’s interests evolved, but he is still a LEGO fanatic. He can put together a new set for hours, without looking up, go to town on mixed pieces doing “freestyle” LEGO, and even pore over old manuals in the car, like he’s studying Talmud.
His other recent obsession is Super Mario 3D World on the Nintendo Switch. We don’t own one, but my brother took his up to my parent’s weekend house and my son has become devoted to every minute he plays the thing. We limit his time, because he would play until he expired from thirst if we let him. It’s a great game– a reminder why Mario reigns supreme on the screen, and I’ve loved playing it too.
Last week, his loves collided when grandma bought him a Super Mario LEGO set. Yes, dreams do come true. But when he opened the box, he asked my wife where the instructions were. Instead there was a sheet on how to download an app with instructions.
I have seen my wife angry many times, but not enraged as she was in that moment. Why LEGO, why??? Why take a perfect and beautiful thing, a golden analog activity that kids love, and force digital technology into it? Apparently this is the LEGO plan, in the name of sustainability, and I get it. Paper uses trees and water and carbon to ship. Digital, a lot less. But suddenly you are taking one of the few truly unplugged experiences kids love, and inserting a screen into it. And in doing that, LEGO is unwittingly taking away the very magic that makes it so compelling and relevant today. Add in a phone or iPad and suddenly the LEGO experience isn’t as immersive. It is hard to get lost in bricks if your eyes and hands are engaging with the most addictive piece of technology we have created.
The Super Mario LEGO sets are apparently one of a few without instructions on paper, but there will be more. I hope LEGO realizes what it is sacrificing.