I was having dinner in a restaurant one day when a family sat down at the table next to mine.
The kid in the family, who looked to be around six years old, was showing signs of restlessness when his father promptly reached into his backpack, pulled out a portable DVD player, plonked it in front of his offspring, and turned on the device.
The high-tech pacifier played on for the rest of the meal and the kid's eyes never left the screen.
Today, scenes like these are commonplace almost everywhere we go, except that the range of shut-them-up kid entertainment gizmos has grown to include portable game consoles, touch-screen smartphones and tablets.
Ill-mannered children irk me, especially when I'm trying to have a quiet meal with friends only for us to end up shouting just to be heard above the hullabaloo that now includes tantrum-throwing toddlers and screaming kids who think the restaurant is their playground.
Some parents do nothing to discipline their children in such situations--maybe because their hearing has been impaired from the continuous screaming at home. But more often than not these days, most will turn to their trusty high-tech solutions to distract their bawling kids and save themselves from public embarrassment.
Believe me, I'm grateful for the emergence of these modern-day tantrum-stoppers, but I wonder what kind of impact they would have on a kid's ability to imagine.
A stack of wooden square blocks can't do anything on its own. They don't morph into robots and they certainly can't miraculously form a fortress when a kid touches them. But that's probably what most children expect these days. They'd touch a screen and wait for something to happen.
Give a kid some woodblocks today and he'll probably stack them to form a table on which he can prop up his parent's slate.
While boringly static and uninteresting to some, these traditional toys were what encouraged generations before to imagine and create new forms from scratch. Rather than rely on artificial intelligence to push out content for a child to consume, traditional toys urge young minds to develop their own intelligence and come up with their own solutions.
Does it mean kids who are surrounded by technology are doomed to grow up to be unimaginative drones? Certainly not.
When it was invented, television was also thought to clog minds and dull imagination, but it didn't stop society from producing technopreneurs like Google's Larry Page and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.
There are also many apps running on mobile devices today that are highly educational and prompt children to interact with, rather than simply consume, information.
But rather than simply sticking a multimedia player in front of their kid's face to keep him occupied, parents might want to think about mixing their child's entertainment sources with toys that can help stimulate his creative juice--or end up with a kid who goes around touching every glasstop surface expecting it to provide an answer.
Imagination is the seed of future innovation. Young minds today should be provided an environment that encourages them to come up with solutions on their own, rather than one that shoves information down their throats.
It would be interesting to find out what kind of toys Zuckerberg played with when he was a kid. I'm pretty sure his parents didn't stick him in front of a DVD player during mealtimes.