Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Magic 8 Ball Declared Toy Hall of Fame Worthy

I much enjoy finding out which toys and games made the list of those inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

This year the nods went to the Magic 8 Ball, Uno, and pinball.

While the Magic 8 Ball was introduced in the 1950’s, I don’t recall any direct experience it during my childhood. I haveEight Ball a vague memory of some boy bringing one in the day after Christmas vacation in fifth grade, when we were allowed to bring in something we’d gotten as a gift – the one and only “show and tell” of my grammar school years. (For the record, I brought in my Shirley Temple doll, as did my friend Bernadette. Only hers was the bigger version.)

The Magic 8 Ball was, however, much in presence during my business career when, every so often, in the face of management dithering, someone brought one in for use in a skit skewering the folks in charge. (My preferred make-a-decision-gag was the OUIJA Board. I relabeled on S.W.A.M.I. but I no longer remember what my clever acronym stood for. System Which Always Makes Intelligent decisions??? More directly, at one outfit I worked for, we came in one day to find a paper bag taped to the wall with the the message, “Punch your way out of this one, boys.”)

At any rate, the Magic 8 Ball is a lot of fun, even if it is pretty simpleminded and is only as good as the questions you ask it.

I grew up playing cards. By kindergarten, I was playing not just Go Fish, War, Concentration, Old Maid, and Slapjack, but Rummy. From there, on to Crazy Eights, Hearts, I Doubt It, Gin and Canasta (my all time favorite). I played with my friends (we tended to fixate; one summer all we played were raucous rounds of I Doubt It). And I played with my family (mostly Rummy, Canasta and something called Pokeno Royale, some type of combo of Poker and Keno). Cardplaying was a big summertime pastime, and a snowed in one as well. I also liked Solitaire: regular old, clock, and double.

I loved playing cards and would have loved Uno if it had been around. But it wasn’t. I got to know Uno when my husband and I lived upstairs from a family with two kids. Most days, the kids came up to hang out with us, and one of the things we did was play endless rounds of Uno. (I need to ask Sophia, who has two little guys of her own now, whether they play Uno.)

My experience with Pinball is limited. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t much of a thing in Worcester. Or, if it had been, it was available in sordid quarters that we didn’t frequent. (My brother-in-law, growing up in Philadelphia, was something of a pinball wizard, playing a mean pinball. So maybe it was a big city thing.) I did play it on occasion as an adult and, at arcades – when not playing Skee Ball or Wack-a-mole, I will gravitate toward a pinball machine rather than towards any sort of electronic game. I have observed that this is true of most arcade-goers of a certain age.  

The other nominated toys/games, this year’s runner up, are:

American Girl dolls, chalk, Chutes & Ladders, Fisher-Price Corn Popper, Masters of the Universe, sled, tic-tac-toe, Tickle Me Elmo, and Tudor Electric Football.

As a doll-loving child, I would have killed for an American Girl doll. But they didn’t exist, and it’s unlikely that I would have been given such a swank toy anyway. (C.f., smaller version of the Shirley Temple doll.) But I got to make up for it when my nieces were little, and I got to buy stuff for their Molly and Kit dolls. American Girl dolls are wholesome, well-made and pricey. And they have outfits and accessories to die for. (Or, in my case I guess, kill for. See above.) The biggest problem with them is that they come with books (a good thing) that provide too much of a detailed backstory (a bad thing). Better to let the kids come up with their own scenarios.

Chalk (for Hopscotch) was a staple of my childhood, as was playing Chutes and Ladders. (In addition to playing cards, kids in my era played a ton of board games.) And, ah, the Fisher-Price Corn Popper. After my personal time, but it came out in 1957, so my younger brother (1955) or younger sister (1959) may have had one. Surely, some kids I’ve known in my life have had one of these most excellent of classic toys. What’s not to like, unless you’re a mother with a migraine, about a toy that makes that glorious popping noise while some gleaming eyed child frenetically pushes it around?

Masters of the Universe? Not for me. But the sled. If there was snow on the ground, we were out sliding. I lived on a hill. Everyone who lived in Worcester lived on a hill. We went sledding, from the corner of our backyard, down through the Daigneaults’ hill and side yard, and out onto Winchester Ave. Somewhere along the line, we all became infatuated with Flying Saucers, but those Flexible Flyers were tried and true. I still remember the excitement of three kids on a sled, trusting someone with the steering, and the thrill of belly-flopping and hoping you wouldn’t run into something and end up with a bloody nose. One of the many downsides of climate change is that there’ll be less snow and fewer opportunities for sledding.

Tic-tac-toe? Yawn. But Tickle-Me-Elmo? A very fun toy. I don’t think my niece M had Tickle-Me, but i do believe she had Sleep-and-Snore Ernie, which would sometimes get itself off in the middle of the night and wake the family up.

I had to laugh when I saw Tudor Electronic Football on the list. What would today’s kids, so used to sophisticated electronics, make of plugging in the board, turning it on, and watch the tiny plastic football players – the quarter back with his tiny felt football in hand - judder up the field. Hah! If the Tudor makes it to the Hall of Fame, I hope it’s a throwback from the early 1960’s rather than some splosh modern game.

Anyway, the National Toy Hall of Fame is on my bucket list. Rochester, NY, ain’t that far. Someday…

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Source: Toy Hall of Fame press release. Here’s the full list of inductees since the beginning of time.
And here’s my take on last year’s inductees – all excellent picks: Clue, paper airplanes, and the wiffle ball.

 

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Monday, November 12, 2018

The War to End All Wars

One hundred years ago yesterday – at the 11th hour or the 11th day of the 11th month – World War One ended. No one was calling it World War One, because no one was anticipating World War Two. It was, however, called the First World War because it was, well, the first war that involved most of the world.

Mostly it was called the Great War. Or the World War. Or, in the maternal branch of my family tree, Der Weltkrieg.

The total killed in Der Weltkrieg – all sides – is estimated to be roughly 16 million. Ten million of those were military personnel, and 12 percent of that number came from Austria. I’m guessing that this means the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in which case, a couple of those killed were my great uncles.

My grandfather, Jacob Wolf, was from a German town, Neue Banat, which was in the far out, non-glamorous reaches of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He came from a large family, mostly boys. I don’t know the details, but a bunch of them served, and they were on the frontlines, in the trenches. I don’t know the names of the brothers who died – Michael? Nick? – but Jake survived and decided he wasn’t going to wait around and see what was coming up next. So a few years after Der Weltkrieg, he got on the boat with my grandmother and my toddler mother and headed to America.

Fast forward, and didn’t one brutal, dumb, and brutally dumb war lead to another one.

By this point, Jake was an American citizen, naturalized, as were my grandmother and mother. He prospered in Chicago. A butcher by trade, he owned a successful grocery store, a bungalow in a very nice North Side neighborhood, rental apartments, and a second home (“The Country House”) on a lake about 50 miles outside of the city. He was a Republican – when my mother voted for the first time, she went to the polls with her father and, as she told us, proudly cancelled his vote out. And he was a baseball fan. (I apparently inherited my affinity for the game from both sides.)

By 1941, Jake had three more children – Amerikaners – two of them boys, too young for the war. (Jake and Magdalena rounded out their family in January 1945 with the arrival of my Aunt Kay.) But Jake also had two future sons-in-law, as yet unbeknownst to him or to the brides-to-be, who both spent the war in the Navy. That would be my father and my Uncle Ted (my Aunt Mary’s husband). Later, Jake’s boys were both in the service, my Uncle Jack in the Coast Guard – for some reason, this was a great source of amusement to those Navy men, my father and Ted, who kidded Jack about Hooligan’s Navy. Bob was in the Army.

During World War Two, Jake closely followed the war news. My mother recalled him reading the casualty lists of the Chicago boys killed or wounded, which were published in the newspaper. She recalled him reading the names out loud, crying as he did.

More than most, Jake Wolf knew what war was all about. He had seen the devastation up close and personal, had seen what it meant to parent to lose their boys. Jake knew.

On Veterans Day, we celebrate our vets. And so we should. So a shout out to those who served in our military – Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, and – yes! – Hooligan’s Navy. But this year I’m adding Jake Wolf to the list.

He served in what was supposed to be the war to end all wars. That didn’t work out, but not through lack of desire on Jake’s part.

I didn’t know my grandfather. He died before my second birthday. But have a great picture of him, decked out in a Hawaiian shirt no less, holding me in the yard of The Country House.

Happy Veterans Day, Grandpa!

Friday, November 09, 2018

You gotta know when to fold ‘em, and Samsung does. (This looks like fun!)

I am never an early adopter.

My first cell phone looked like a WWII walkie-talkie. It was so old-school it was almost rotary. It was a hand-me-down from a colleague who was upgrading to a new-fangled flip phone. This was around 1998. I only used that phone for keep-it-in-the-car-for emergencies. After about a year, I got a flip phone.

I laughed at my boss when he got a Palm Pilot. Palm Pilot! We didn’t have LOL back in that day, but I was LOL-ing over the product’s name. It sounded like…. Well, never you mind what it sounded like to me. Anyway, after a not-so-long-while watching him use his Palm Pilot, I went and got one. From the point on, I couldn’t live with out it. Until everything you could do on a Palm Pilot, you could do on a smartphone. So I got a smartphone.

I swear to God that my husband and I purchased the very last fat-box TV for sale anywhere in the city of Boston. We liked the picture better than what was on the flat screens, and were afraid that if we hesitated too long we wouldn’t have be able to find a TV we liked. So we went ahead and got fat boy. How much longer did it take us to get a big old flat screen? Not all that long.

I’m trying to think of something I was an early adopter of. Maybe the New Beetle, which I bought the first year it came out. That may not strictly count, as the Beetle was such a throwback product. But when I first had my Beetle on the road, people would notice. I went to a party – mostly boomers – and everyone who knew how to drive stick lined up to take it for a spin around the block. And then those Beetles were everywhere. My one time in the vanguard. And it wasn’t about early tech adoption. It was about early nostalgia adoption.

Anyway, while I’m never in the first wave of adopters of anything, I’m never in the last wave either, preferring to catch a second or third wave.

So, no, I won’t be first in line for phone that has an “origami” fold-out screen that turns into a tablet.

We think of a smartphone screen as a rigid piece of glass that’s limited by the size of the device itself. But Samsung’s Infinity Flex Display folds, unfolds and refolds to pack up into a smaller form. (Source: WaPo)

Earlier this week, at its developers conference, Samsung offered a sneak peek of the smartphone-of-the-future, which is expected to be commercially available some time in 2019.

In an interview, the CEO of Samsung’s mobile division, DJ Koh, told me the folding phone is no gimmick. “In terms of productivity, always a bigger screen is better,” he said. “If we made a much bigger screen than the Note, then it would become a tablet. So why don’t we think about folding? We started from this simple idea three or four years ago.”

And now they have a prototype.  And now they need apps that work on it. But this tech is so cool, that shouldn’t be a problem. (Google has already signed up to do native Android for it.)

Folded up, the device has a screen on its front. When opened, the interior screen lays flat — with little hint of a crease — to show a widescreen version of whatever app had been previously running on the front.

That interior screen is 7.3 inches, smaller than a tablet, but much easier to do work on (or have fun with) than the screen size of a current smartphone.

How’d they make the screen fold flat? Koh said Samsung has had bendable OLED screens for years, but they’ve been fixed behind glass. The folding phone’s interior screen uses a different kind of composite polymer transparent material that can withstand being opened or closed at least 300,000 times. We’ll have to see how it wears in real-world use.

Well if it lasts being opened and shut “at least 300,000 times”, that’s an open and shut case. Even if I opened it 100 times a day, it would still last me over 8 years. A lifetime! Especially when you factor in a) my age, and b) the fact that even someone who doesn’t lunge for every new tech bell and whistle – I tend to hang on to a phone or laptop for anywhere from 2 to 4 years – will be onto something new before this one dies on me. (When I replace depends on my current tolerance for the performance slowdown that comes as the apps get appier, and the batteries get funkier.)

But one of the reasons I never want to jump in to early on a new technology is that Version 1 generally has a ton of bugs in it. For those who thrive on acquiring the new and the shiny, these problems are just baked into early adoption. Me? I like to wait for the shakedown cruise to set sail and return before I’ll jump in on something.

In any case, I’m completely enamored at the idea of the folding phone and I’ll definitely be in one of the earlier of the adopter waves. (That is, unless it’s stupendously expensive.)

By the way, one of the things I like about this is that Samsung seems to have gotten a jump on Apple. Oh, I’m sure Apple’s working on something similar, but it’s yet to be seen. As one of the lone Android/Samsung phone users in my circle, I’m looking forward to showing mine off.

This one looks like fun!

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The reinvented toilet market? Disrupters are everywhere

My husband’s Uncle Bill was born in 1910. He was raised on a tobacco farm in Western Mass that, during his childhood, lacked the comfort of indoor plumbing. When someone would start rhapsodizing about the good old days, Bill would immediately bring up frigid morning trips to the outhouse.

Worse than an outhouse, of course, is no outhouse. In my younger days, I did a bit of camping, so I’m quite familiar with relieving yourself in nature. It’s actually okay when the whether is perfect, it’s light out, and you’re able to be quick about it. If not…

Anyway, I definitely come down on the side of a clean toilet in a well-lit room.

As anyone who’s ever plumbed a bowl or changed the out the floating ball and chain gizmo in the tank can attest, the technology hasn’t changed all that much over the years.

Sure, there are those super-flush toilets that have all kinds of involved gear in them that cost a lot of money and a lot more money to repair. Then there are smart toilets that flush themselves. Special settings for Number 1 and Number 2. And heated seats. But basically it’s activate flush, waste out, water back in the ready.

I do remember the Clivus Multrum, a composting indoor toilet from Sweden. In the late 1960’s/early 1970’s, Abby Rockefeller of the Rockefeller family was a proponent and, I think, introduced them in the U.S. I was vaguely aware of this because my sister Kath was an acquaintance of Abby, who was a local feminist big-wig.

Can’t remember where, but I actually used a Clivus Multrum recently. It was weird, but I do take their word that this approach is more environmentally friendly than trad plumbing.

Abby Rockefeller isn’t the only philanthropist involved in toiletry.

Bill Gates, it seems, has turned his considerable brain and fortune to this necessity.

….he’s betting big that a reinvention of this most essential of conveniences can save a half million lives and deliver $200 billion-plus in savings.

The billionaire philanthropist, whose Bill & Ms neceselinda Gates Foundation spent $200 million over seven years funding sanitation research, showcased some 20 novel toilet and sludge-processing designs that eliminate harmful pathogens and convert bodily waste into clean water and fertilizer.

“The technologies you’ll see here are the most significant advances in sanitation in nearly 200 years,” Gates, 63, told the Reinvented Toilet Expo in Beijing on Tuesday. (Source: Bloomberg)

The Reinvented Toilet Expo, huh? Sounds like that might have been a bit more interesting and worthwhile than most/all of the tech expos I participated in over the years.  (At one such expo, I was waiting for a cab and who walked by but Bill Gates. He was getting into a hired car. Maybe I should have asked if I could hitch a ride to O’Hare with him.)

I have next to no experience in countries mired in poverty and with poor plumbing.

But what I saw on a day-trip to Tijuana in 1972, open running sewers are pretty terrible. Offal/awful.

The world – in which 2.3 billion people live without access to basic sanitation -  needs alternatives to creating expensive infrastructure (sewers, piping, waste-treatment facilities). And Clivus Multrums are far too expensive.

So it’s a good thing that researchers and companies are reinventing the toilets.

“Our goal is to be at 5 cents a day of cost,” Gates said in a telephone interview before the exhibition. Small-scale waste treatment plants, called omni-processors, may be suited for uses beyond human waste management -- such as for managing effluent from intensive livestock production -- because of its low marginal running costs relative to the value of the fertilizer and clean water it produces, he said.

“I never imagined that I’d know so much about poop,” Gates said in remarks prepared for the Beijing event. “And I definitely never thought that Melinda would have to tell me to stop talking about toilets and fecal sludge at the dinner table.”

Fecal sludge? Bet it’s more interesting table convo than the glories of MultiPlan (Microsoft’s early spreadsheet) or fun with screen beans.

And so much better for the world.

Thank you, Bill Gates. The world may not be a better place thanks to Microsoft – the jury’s out on net-improvements to my life - but it will be if we can figure out how to reinvent sanitation so that our poor fragile planet can support billions more pee-ers and poopers.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Nice to know there’s an option out there

For years, I would kiddingly tell friends that, if needs be, I could always go back to waitressing.

But that’s not quite true.

It would be too hard on the back, too hard on the feet. Plus my tolerance for putting up with cooks, managers, bartenders and, oh yeah, customers would certainly have declined over the years.

So waitressing’s out, even though I have now achieved the age and heft that would make me right at home at Durgin-Park (if, in fact, they still specialize in old bags).

Then I think, hey, I could always get a job working as an admin – maybe at one of the local colleges or universities: one I could walk to. What a prize I would be for the professor or dean who lucked into having me as their admin: literate, numerate. I could edit their papers and figure out their budgets, slick up their Powerpoints and compose their emails.

But they’d probably prefer someone less skilled but chirpier.

Other possibilities?

Well, I couldn’t keep a straight face long enough to be a Walmart greeter.

Maybe I could be a receptionist. A dog walker. An Uber driver – days only, if I had a car. Ticket taker at a museum. I’m sure that if I were in need of a job, even at my advanced and advancing age, there’d be a few options out there.

When I’ve thought about looking for employment – which, in truth, I’m fortunate not to have to think seriously about – I’ve never actually considered becoming a fast food worker.

All the downside of being a waitress without the upside of tips.

But at least they’re hiring old geezers.

Restaurants are recruiting in senior centers and churches. They’re placing want ads on the website of AARP, an advocacy group for Americans over 50. Recruiters say older workers have soft skills—a friendly demeanor, punctuality—that their younger cohorts sometimes lack.

Two powerful trends are at work: a labor shortage amid the tightest job market in almost five decades, and the propensity for longer-living Americans to keep working—even part-time—to supplement often-meager retirement savings. Between 2014 and 2024, the number of working Americans aged 65 to 74 is expected to grow 4.5 percent, while those aged 16 to 24 is expected to shrink 1.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.(Source: Bloomberg)

McDonald’s, in fact, “plans to make senior citizens one hiring focus in the coming year.”

In addition to our “friendly demeanor” and “punctuality”, we’re good for something else: no one has to figure out career progression for us; no recruiter needs to ask “where do you see yourself in five years” of someone whose answer is “still upright, I hope.”

I don’t think I could hack fast food.

All that standing on your feet is pretty exhausting. Some days, when I come off of a volunteer shift at St. Francis House, I’m just beat. And that’s true whether it’s prepping food or dishing it out in the kitchen, sorting clothing donations or acting as the personal “shopper” for our guests, or signing folks up for showers and handing out towels and toothbrushes. Especially when it’s a long – four hour – shift.

A few years ago, when I first began volunteering, I signed up for six-hour stints in the kitchen. I did this over Christmas break, when they were in some need of volunteers to fill in for the college kids who’d gone home. Fortunately, I was smart enough not to sign up for back-to-back days. But after that first six-hour shift, I almost had to crawl home, a quarter-mile or so across the Boston Common.

By the time I arrived at my doorstep, I was so exhausted that I couldn’t decide what to do first: throw myself in the shower, throw my self into bed, or throw my smelly clothing into the washing machine.

This would be, I imagine, the daily experience working in fast food. And I’m plenty strong and healthy.

Other than the polyester, I suppose I’d get used to it, especially if I needed the money.

But when I think about jobs for us elders, I really hate to think about anyone having to work at McDonald’s. Oh, we’re living longer, and a lot of folks don’t have much by way of retirement reserves. And work is work, and money is money. So on my biennial trips to McD’s, I’ll be on the lookout for some fellow Boomer salting my fries. I will be kind. I will be patient. I will be friendly. And I just hope I never recognize anyone I know handing me my Big Mac.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Berries to new-style strawberries

Life if full of little disappointments, and one of those little disappointments is biting into a big, red strawberry and finding that what looked deceptively luscious on the outside is nothing but a tasteless chunk of white yuck.

When I was a kid, strawberries were actually tasty. And on the inside, they were red. You bought them from a local farm stand and your mother made strawberry shortcake. Even the frozen strawberries, while not quite as good as the real thing, were red and tasty.

As a Durgin-Park waitress, one of our tasks was to hull pint after pint of strawberries for strawberry shortcake. These strawberries, too, were red and tasty. Diners would sometime challenge us, claiming that they just knew that the strawberries were frozen. We would hold up our red fingers to prove that, nope, we used fresh. (By the way, we didn’t have any fancy purpose-built strawberry hullers. We used spoons. I still do – only I use a grapefruit spoon – on the rare occasion when I make strawberry shortcake.)

But mostly I don’t buy strawberries.

Yes, I like them on my cereal in the morning, but bananas are cheaper – and they’re available year-round. And, in summer, when they’re affordably available, blueberries are safer. Even if you can only get the really tasty ones, the tiny blueberries, from the farmers’ market at the height of summer, the larger industrial berries that you get at the grocery store tend to taste okay.

Not so with strawberries.

I’ll wander through the produce section thinking, maybe I’ll get me some strawberries. And then I see that all they have is Driscoll brand – Driscoll seems to have the monopoly at the local grocery chains – and I take a pass. Driscoll tends to disappoint. Too often, no matter how swell, how perfect they may look, they end up being white and tasteless.

Plus they’re bigger than they used to be, back when I was hulling strawberries at Durgin.

Is there a correlation between tastiness and size? There sure is for blueberries. Size matters and small is definitely better.

What about strawberries?

Does lousy taste come with larger size?

The answer is yes. Sort of.

It turns out that those land-of-the-giants strawberries have been cultivated because they’re easier to pick – whether by humans or through mechanization. And, given how ill-paid, physically demanding, and tedious fruit-picking is, fruit-growers tend to run into fruit-picker shortages. When the berries are larger,

…a migrant fruit picker can pick a greater mass of strawberry with each muscle movement. If you ever wonder why strawberries are now as large as plums used to be, the tight labour market is the reason. (Source: The Economist)

So Driscoll – which dominates the scene, whether in The States where there’s a labor market or in the UK where there’s a labour market – came up with the larger, firmer strawberry.

And when you focus on larger and firmer, something often gives, and what gives with strawberries is taste.

Seems to me that a strawberry without taste is just not worth it. Guess if I get a hankering for strawberry shortcake, I’ll have to wait for the farmers’ market to come around again next summer. That or head to Whole Wallet and pay a gazillion bucks for a pint of fancy non-Driscolls.

Meanwhile, I’ll just give the berries to industrial-strength strawberries. Blech…

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When I was in the software biz, and we were doing product releases, we’d say, “fast, good, cheap: pick two; cuz you can’t have all three.” Trade-offs, I guess, are universal.

Monday, November 05, 2018

You oughta be in pictures. Your kids? Maybe not so much.

I don’t have much to do with Facebook, and nothing to do with Insta.

On FB, I’m basically there to see what’s up with my friends’ kids, grandkids, and pets. Beck is walking! Pete was a dragon for Halloween! Rufus (who’s a dog) was a lion!

I’m always happy to see these pictures and feel I’m keeping up with the kiddos and doggos I may only see in person once or twice a year, if that.

Smartphones, of course, turn everyone into a photographer documenting their kids’ and pets’ daily existence. And unlike in the olden days, when you had to develop pictures by dropping roles of film off at the drugstore, or – if you were the adventurous techie-type – use nasty smelling chemical rollers to develop your own Polaroids, picture-taking today is free. Thus there are a lot more pictures of kids out taken. And, what with the good old Internet, no barrier to sharing those pictures with the world.

In a 2016 study, parents shared an average of 116 photos of their kids, and the Child Rescue Coalition, a Florida-based nonprofit dedicated to shielding children from predators, estimates that 90% of children have photos on social media by the age of 2. (Quartz.com)

Now, the first part of that paragraph sounds a tad excessive but fine. As in I’m fine with seeing 116 photos of someone’s kids and grandkids. That’s just a bit over 2 per week. Who doesn’t like to see cute kids so that they can ooh-and-aah  to the parents and grandparents?

But the mention of predators and rescue in the second part? That’s pretty yucky and unsettling. Especially when you consider that all those parents and grandparents:

…may also be sharing with strangers. And some of those strangers, it turns out, use those photos to create online fantasy worlds.

It’s called digital kidnapping. Instagram users “roleplay” with these photos, using hashtags like #AdoptionRP, #KidRP, #BabyRP and #OrphanRP to post children’s pictures “up for grabs,” i.e., to be used to establish the identity and backstory of their “character.” For instance, in a photo that shows a full baby diaper, the user implores someone to adopt “Baby Tye,” who was “put into a big basket with his teddy, some milk and himself on the streets.”

A few years back, there was a lot of publicity around those lifelike baby dolls that women were buying and treating as if they were real children. They were buying real baby clothing for them – and baby “stuff” designed for real babies: cribs, carseats, carriers, etc. – and taking them out in public for people to ooh and aah over. Until, I guess, they realized that there was something wrong with the non-baby baby. (I seem to recall that, in one case, someone broke the window in a car on a hot day to rescue a baby that turned out to be nothing but a doll.)

Anyway, I thought that fake-baby scene was plenty weird, creepy and pathetic.

I find this roleplay scene equally weird, creepy and pathetic, but with the ante ante’d way up, given that they’re borrowing someone else’s kids to fill in their plotlines. Guess it’s not enough to have a weird, creepy and pathetic digital avatar that looks line an anime character. Now you need to have a real fake thing.

Some “people roleplay as the child,” and hangout out playing with their little roleplay friends. (Don’t they have their own friends to play with. Sad!)

In “family” roleplay accounts, multiple people interact with each other, pretending to be couples, siblings, or parents to children.

Guess I’m just too inhibited to want join a fake online family. I mean, how embarrassing. Or maybe, even without kids of my own, I have enough real people in my life that I don’t really need to make family up.

And didn’t roleplay used to be something that actual people did with other actual people whom they knew and maybe even loved – or at least liked well enough to hang around with. I googled “is roleplay healthy” and the answer is that, even if it sounds a bit kinky, it is in fact healthy. But virtual roleplay? I dunno…And when it comes to kidnapping the image of someone else’s kid and using it on the down-low. Whoa, baby.

The good news is that the roleplayers tend to go for professional photos, not for your crappy iPhone snaps.

Still, it’s a bit frightening. I can’t imagine how awful it would be for a parent or grandparent to find out that their little guys (or even your pets) are being used in someone’s oddball roleplay game. Let alone by some complete and utter perv – and you’ve got to believe there are plenty of them out there in virtual land.

There is just so much creepy downside to the Internet, is there not??