LAST year, the covered walkway over the tracks at my local railway station was given a fresh lick of glossy paint.
But it wasn’t the new colour scheme that yanked me back in time to a land far away, it was the lingering, distinctive smell.
Gloss paint on hardboard and there I was, six years old, wide-eyed and thrilled by my birthday present, a handmade dolls’ house.
Painted blue and yellow by my dad, little curtains made by my mum, I risked being stabbed by its sharp edges every time I brushed by but it was my favourite thing. Ever.
I had my second-hand bike and my Crissy doll with her adjustable hair, but maybe because even aged six I understood the effort and love that had gone into its creation, that dolls’ house – and the way its painted walls smelled – is the most powerful memory of them all.
Now I look at my kids’ enormous collection of toys and wonder which one they’ll remember most in four decades. Answer: probably none.
Because they are children of the digital age, raised on beeps and flashing images, addicted to touch screens, apps and Angry Birds, easily capable of wasting an entire weekend glued to a box, while Nerf guns and paint sets lie untouched, poor cousins to tablets and Xboxes.
A report at the weekend from a Birmingham City University raised concern for even younger digital addicts than mine, “techno babies” aged under 36 months who should be pushing toy cars across the floor or chewing their own fist for entertainment but instead are hooked on technology.
Parents might like to think this means they have a young Einstein, but Birmingham team leader Jane O’Connor says it is: “Seismic (and) unchartered territory in terms of their physical, educational, social and psychological development.”
American neuroscientist Dr Manfred Spitzer goes further, suggesting too much screen time for the very young could lead to thinking and memory problems.
Meanwhile, doctors in gadget-hooked South Korea have coined the term “digital dementia” after seeing app-addicts with memory and cognitive issues similar to brain injury.
For parents who shove smartphones and tablets at their kids because they know it’ll keep them quiet – and I’m as guilty as the next – it’s something else to worry about.
Perhaps further on, the sensory jolt to revive our kids’ memories of growing up will involve licking a lithium battery, gazing at screen shots of Boomerang Bird and a deep regret that they didn’t just listen to mum and dad, and log off.