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01 January 2004

Do children still collect things?

BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour recently treated us to Why don't children collect things anymore?; a wonderful conversation between Irving Finkel, an expert in ancient children's games, and Noreen Marshall of the Museum of Childhood.

Some of the best insights came from the interviews with children that started the programme:

"It's a long story but all it is, like - collecting - is to impress mates. They can collect things to impress you, and you can collect things to impress them."

"This is my animal collection and I got a shark fish's egg and I got some quail eggs and a collection of feathers... This snowy owl feather, my friend Janie found it... A hawk feather which I found in America... I enjoy collecting animals' stuff because I like animals and it's fun looking for them."

"I keep them in my bedroom as ornaments."

"I like old things... some day they'll be worth quite a lot of money."

"Collecting's really, really fun. When you've got a lot you can share them with your friends and they can share their things with you."

"Collecting things sort of shows what the person's like. It gives an insight on the person."

"I think parents think it's a waste of space, a waste of time and a waste of money."

The conversation between Finkel and Marshall centred on the decline of more traditional behaviours like stamp collecting, or bird nesting.

Finkel argued that the commercialisation of collecting, through products like Pokémon cards, has devalued the experience: "What's really exciting about collecting is looking for things that you can't find when you want them. All you need to find [mass market collectibles] is the money. The real thrill is lost."

And, that these products might be branded as 'limited edition' or 'rare' but this is manipulated rather than spontaneous. I noticed this recently in Forbidden Planet, which has lucky-dip style vending machines for pocket-money priced toys, and trading cards on the counter. Reading both the pitches and disclaimers reminded me more of gambling than collecting.

Noreen Marshall explained that our culture sends very clear messages to children that we amass things, so maybe children need to go through collecting as a way of starting this somewhere. And that children are often not allowed - now - to do things like go out and collect pressed flowers, so these commercial collectibles fill a gap. Marshall and Finkel also conceded that some of what was acceptable in the past (e.g. bird nesting) is no longer.

Finally, Finkel argued that the art of collecting - the concept of it and value of it - is not appreciated. That ours is not a culture where collecting as such is regarded as desirable.

When asked what people should be collecting, Finkel suggested diaries "because people throw them away". Maybe LiveJournal, Blogger, TypePad et al are engaged in a great act of cultural salvage.

See also: BadFads Museum

Posted at 11:06 AM in Children and teens, Collecting | Permalink

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