Thursday, January 28, 2010
It's strange to think a tiny red beam of light could bring so much childhood joy and so much adult annoyance all in its compact key chain-attachable form. Especially when you consider that this device was originally intended to aid lecturers in their presentations, it seems like a bit of a leap to imagine children having much of a use for the thing. I doubt the inventors of the laser pointers sat around their brainstorming table musing about alternative uses for their product. "Well, how about pointing it at people's crotches on movie screens? Do you think that could be a selling point?"
No, it was up to us kids to decide on the most irritating and teacher-grating uses for the laser pointer. Anyone who believes children aren't naturally creative simply have not examined the case of the laser pointer. It takes a savvy mind to take a tool meant for one of the most boring possible purposes and changing the function to delight their insatiable appetite for mischief.
Kids are far craftier and more inventive than adults usually give them credit for. The only problem is, they generally tend to direct this mind power toward the deviant. As kids we're not about finding solutions to the world's problems; we don't have that kind of mental breadth or empathy. We're in it solely for the entertainment.
Of course, kids have been partaking in this sort of tomfoolery for generations. It doesn't take much to entertain a child, and it doesn't take much to irritate an adult. The power of these two forces combined leads to a dangerous and potent cocktail of annoying proportions. The day a kid realized he could temporary blind a teacher by using the reflection of the sun off his watch, you better bet that's exactly what he did. It's not that he didn't care about her well-being. It's just that he cares more about delighting his impressionable classmates.
Such was also the case with laser pointers, a sort of updated version of this blinded-by-the-light childhood fancy. It's one thing to use "It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye" as an empty threat, but quite another to have to really mean it. That's not to say these things were actually capable of loosening an eye from its physical socket. I'd imagine they'd have been long banned from business conferences and conventions if that was the case. They could cause some temporary visual discomfort, though, and this was enough to have angry parent watchdog-type groups up in arms over the issue.
Many of these uptight groups were enraged that parents were buying these little lights for their children. They wrote angry letters to school principals and district superintendents about the harm in these kids playing Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader with their makeshift light sabers. These devices, they stressed, were not toys. They didn't care how hilarious it was to illuminate their teacher's private parts with a pesky red dot. They just wanted them banned.
To be fair, there might eb some legitimately harmful implications of shining a little red dot on someone. I suppose if someone was intensely overly suspicious, they could assume that the telltale red dot was indicative of a sniper alignment. In fact, in a brief internet search on kids and laser pointers, I came across a very angry letter from a proud gun owner claiming it's not her fault if she panics over that little red light and pulls her gun on a kid. Now, I'm all for consequences for our actions, but that seems a tad harsh. That's like saying we should approve the death penalty for stealing lunch money. The sense of proportion seems just a smidge out of whack.
Incensed critics of laser-pointers-as-toys even cried foul on an episode of Seinfeld that chronicled George's misadventures with a laser pointer-wielding miscreant. The part I like best about this episode (entitled "The Puerto Rican", by the way) is that the perpetrator is actually a grown man. It just goes to show that immaturity is something we can all share. It's not exclusive to preadolescent boys. If anything, the drive to stir up trouble only grows with age. Well, to a point, that is. At a certain age, we all morph into the crotchety critics who cried foul on these glorious sources of entertainment in the first place. Until then, though, we have a free pass to behave like this:
The craze of young people utilizing laser pointers for pure entertainment was a short-lived one. At a point, the novelty wore off and we were once again able to attend a movie matinee without having to worry about the endless distraction of a roaming point of light. In a way, though, you have to miss the innocence and easy distractability of your youth. Sure, the things were annoying, but they represented a certain juvenile sense of humor that's tough to recapture in an age of ever-increasing technological output.
Now that kids today have a wealth of information and gadgetry at their immediate disposal, it's tough to imagine them getting as much of a kick out of a red bedotted movie. On the other hand, maybe there's a common bond that transcends generations that brings us together. I'm willing to venture that deep down, no matter in which generation you grew up, you will find certain things intrinsically amusing. So to today's kids, I say enjoy your easily amused youth. We'll catch you on the other side when you're getting all crotchety and George Costanza about it.