In the late 1970's, the toy industry embraced technology as never before and contributed to the children of the 70's and 80's becoming a tech-savvy, science- (and science-fiction-) loving populace. Do you remember your first microchip?
Toys that talked, walked, and lit up like a disco floor dominated the toy chests of this era and shaped the ways in which kids interacted with the world. Saturday morning cartoons blared advertisements populated by talking Teddy bears, cyborg Barbies, and home video-game systems that paved the way for the tech toys of today. One of my most frightening childhood memories is of a sleepover, when late at night, curled up in the bottom bunk, I heard a voice from the closet imploring me "Let's be friends!" over and over... until the batteries finally wore out. This was before Furby, but not long after Gremlins, and I was petrified that some small fuzzy minion of Chuckie was about to emerge and murder me in my sleep.
Here are few toys that changed playtime forever:
Speak & Spell
In 1978, Texas instruments, future purveyors of all those nifty graphing calculators, gave us the bright red wonder of Speak & Spell, a hand-held spelling tool that contained the first single-chip voice synthesizer. A powerful little chip, ET even used it to phone home. In the years that followed, the exact same chip would be used for the first Electronic Voice Alert in vehicles, and would become a fixture in many toys and arcade games. Today, hackers and musicians alike take apart this classic toy with many entertaining results.
Also introduced in 1978, Milton Bradley launched the Simon with a coming-out party fittingly held at Studio 54. Flashing like a disco floor, this memory game became an instant fad. It was deceptively simple: kids had to master and repeat a visual and auditory sequence displayed by Simon. Its influence has continued on into the present, and now you can make your own Simon. One could even argue we have Simon to thank for Dance Dance Revolution. And is it just me, or does the Google Chrome logo look mighty familiar?
Before Furbies began multiplying like Tribbles, Teddy Ruxpin was the toy to own. Essentially not much more than a tape deck encased in fluff, Teddy Ruxpin enthralled, entertained and terrified the children of the 80's. Somehow, the novelty of a talking teddy never quite wore off, and modern toy manufactures have taken the concept to its logical, and perhaps inevitable, conclusion: the iTeddy.
My hands-down favorite Teddy Ruxpin hack has to be the Twittering Teddy: