The Secret History of Boys and their Toys by Lee Carnihan

“Building a remote-controlled airplane is an adult hobby that is just as much fun as any childhood pastime,” says Bill Adler, author of Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets. From laser keyrings and miniature desk games to multi-tool pens and movie-themed gadgets, ‘boys’ toys’ are more than just gizmos to entertain guys when they’re bored – they’re about reconnecting with childhood fun!

Our endless fascination with tech

Every generation had their own wave of gadgets that captured the imaginations of young boys through to grown men. In the 1950s, it was Scalextric; in the 1970s, along came the Rubik’s cube; and today we have drones! There’s always something new around the corner ready to relegate your new gadget to ‘retro’ status.

Rubik's Cube by Acdx.jpg

Little has changed other than the technology – we’re just as addicted to the buzz of playing with new gadgets and toys as ever before, and we still admire the craftsmanship of the inventors who created them. For instance, when the Boy Scouts was established in the early 1900s, the pocket knife was a vital tool for social ranking. To this day, opening up a Swiss Army Knife produces that same feeling of excitement and admiration for many men.

The perfect way to escape reality

Just as childhood toys led to hours of fort-building, spud-gun-shooting and play-acting, men’s gadgets allow us to create imaginary situations in much the same way (even if we’d rather not admit it). Now that we’re all grown up, the fantasising goes on inside our heads rather then on the playground – like when you see the latest model Ferrari, you probably imagine taking it for a spin, right?

Ferrari F12 Berlinetta by Leap Kye.jpg

It’s the same with any ‘boy toy’. Take an impressive scene of newly painted military models or an intricate model railway set, most of us will instantly imagine the real thing in action. That’s because toys and gadgets have the ability to focus our minds into a state of child-like simplicity and enjoyment, effectively blocking out life’s worries (if only for a brief moment).

New excuses for playing with gadgets

If there’s one advantage to growing up, it’s that when you become a father you have a perfect excuse to play with your favourite toys all over again (and discover new ones). Even if you make all the sound effects, who cares what your partner or friends think of your act of ‘pretending’ to have fun while your kid discovers their creative side? It’s all part of discovering your inner child. Plus, there’s the bonus of receiving novelty gadgets for Father’s Day.

The value of classic hobbies as time away from the screen is perhaps more important than ever. According to Ofcom, two thirds of people in the UK now own a smartphone, with 90% being 16–24-year-olds. More and more young children have access to smartphones and tablets, and many parents use screens as a means of keeping them occupied, which has caused a great deal of concern about the educational and developmental impacts of technology on young children.

On the other hand, playing with puzzles and games has been proven to develop good hand–eye co-ordination and problem-solving skills, and improve concentration. There’s a lot to be said about sticking to the old classics when playing with your kids, and it’s always more fun when you get to teach them the rules, rather than the other way round!

You get to show them the ropes

Games help kids develop self confidence, social skills and even bring out their competitive nature – whether that’s through winning everyone else’s marbles or declaring themselves ‘king of the castle’. It’s pretty much the same when they go through their teenage years into adulthood, only this time it’s about driving a flash car or wearing fashionable clothing – but all this has changed through technology.

What might have been seen as off-the-wall futuristic a few decades ago is now readily available to consumers. The Smart Watch makes most of the stuff from Back to the Future look dated (ok, maybe not the hover board), but the point is that technology is constantly getting better and more affordable than ever.

As Bill Adler says, “Sword fighting, arm wrestling and drinking contests are out as ways to prove manliness; more expensive watches and faster computers are in.” The ever-improving capacities of technology mean that internet-enabled gadgets are the new indicator of status and taste. App and cloud-controlled devices like Hive or Nest have made it easy to set up smart home technology within your house, making it possible to control systems within the home remotely. And last year’s Apple Watch, which felt like the pinnacle of modern consumer technology, was proudly worn on the wrists of many like a badge of honour.

Of course, there’s another reason why men like gadgets. It’s because they’re cool and provide a distraction from the realities of everyday life. Boy’s toys don’t necessarily have to do anything – they simply have to distract us momentarily. And that’s the beauty of them.

Swiss Army Knife and Rubik's Cube - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Ferrari image - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/ 

Bill Adler's book - http://www.adlerbooks.com/book/threshold/