Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lego in Asia

I have read two articles recently about the growing success of Lego in Asia. The Lego company is learning that they can make massive amounts of money by convincing Asian tiger moms that Legos will be good for their childrens' intellectual development:

Short overview from The Economist

Longer New Yorker article

I wish them great success in their venture; it will improve the world in many ways if millions of Asian children are allowed to play with Legos rather than being forced into piano lessons.

Learning about this development has had a surprisingly powerful effect on me, and it is interesting to analyze why. First, it is a reminder of how fascinating and interconnected the world is. Who would have guessed 50 years ago, or even 10 years ago, that a Danish toy company would be exporting its expensive and high-end products to millions of Chinese families?

But more importantly, it is a very powerful reminder of how rich and modern Asia has become. When I was growing up and learning about the world, about 20 years ago, I learned that Asia was a vast hive of farms and sweatshops full of people who lived in grinding poverty and an existence that was little better than medieval standards of living. This was mostly accurate.

I knew from an early age that Japan was a relatively rich and modern country, but I also knew that their culture was very different from that of American and European countries. Despite their wealth and prosperity, they were 'not like us' in a lot of important ways. And as other Asian countries got richer, they seemed to jump straight from medieval subsistence farming to Japanese-style computer-obsessed hyper-urbanization, skipping completely the comfortable semi-rural middle-class existence I grew up in. This was mostly accurate.

In short, the idea that any Asian child could have a childhood anything like mine never entered my mind. They all seemed to be either stuck in a miserable farming or sweatshop existence, or they were single children being pushed through a hyper-competitive educational system fanatically intent on memorization and conformity, and spending their free time plugged into electronic devices.

But now they are playing with Legos.

As a result of reading these articles, I am suddenly confronted with the fact that millions of children in former third-world countries will have a childhood a lot like mine: school, after-school academic activities, fun creative playtime, and parents who want them to be successful and well-rounded people. Because we now share a tangible and emotionally salient experience, these children have suddenly become much more real to me.

The amazing advancement of the standard of living in their countries has also become more real to me. A childhood once only available to the richest of the rich will now be the birthright of a substantial fraction of the world.

1 comment:

Lou said...

Maybe because it's 4am and (obviously) and can't sleep, did I find this to be an enjoyable read. Short & sweet and to the point. Again, thanks for the backhand compliment to your parents of the childhood experiences you most certainly seem to have relished. Dad