It leads in with some engaging details of key influencer marketing:
Early this year, market researchers headed into playgrounds, skate parks and video arcades throughout Chicago looking for what they called alpha pups. They went up to boys between the ages of 8 and 13 with a question: ''Who's the coolest kid you know?'' When they got a name, they would look for that kid and put the question to him. The goal was to ascend the hierarchy of coolness, asking the question again and again until someone finally answered ''Me.'' By the end of April, they had found alpha pups in most of the schools in Chicago and made them an offer that sounded too good to be true. Hasbro would pay them $30 to learn a new video game...
And turns toward the politically dangerous ground of making great observations on gender & childhood learning:
On playgrounds, boys tend to roam at the edges, while girls tend to stay put at the center. A study in the 1970's found that boys playing after school spent more time outside and covered nearly three times as much ground as girls. For Tom Sawyer, a good day meant fleeing Aunt Polly by hopping over the fence and going off to play war.
Today, though, Tom would probably not be doing much carefree roaming. He would probably be in a city or suburb with his day's activities fully scheduled. Half the day would be spent trying to sit still at a desk. ''It's boring when you're in school,'' Angel said. ''The boys got to be calm, but we want to run around and play. The girls like school, because they get to talk to friends. Boys like to talk a little, but we like to play-fight more.''
''We like violence!''
''It's fun to beat your friends.''
They sounded bloodthirsty, but they didn't look at all menacing. I never saw them or any other Pox players in Chicago come to blows. They teased and bickered, and they got frustrated at the defeat of a prized warrior, but I never saw anyone seriously threaten anyone. They played the way Hasbro had predicted -- Win loudly, lose quietly'' -- and the winners' gloating didn't seem to bother the losers as much as it pleased the winners. I watched only a few dozen players, but my unscientific observations jibed with the results of a classic playground study conducted in 1976 by Janet Lever, a sociologist. The fifth-grade boys she observed often interrupted their games to argue about rules, but the argument never lasted more than seven minutes, and the game always resumed. The girls argued less, but when they did, the game usually ended.
Boys keep the peace through confrontation and competition. Like other young male primates, they learn to get along through rough-and-tumble play. They resolve conflicts with challenges that clearly establish rules and a hierarchy, enabling them to play and work in large groups. Their stoicism enables them to be defeated without losing face, thereby defusing potentially violent situations. Like Robin Hood and Little John, most boys emerge from confrontations as better friends.
In an adult's ideal playground, there would be no violent fantasies, no aggression, no hierarchies or cliques, no sexual segregation. By playing with girls, boys would pick up some of their verbal gifts and emotional savvy. Girls would pick up boys' techniques for competing and working in large groups. But in a real playground, most boys and girls don't do that. On my last afternoon in Chicago, I accompanied Angel to a playground near his home, and it was no different from the scene described by social scientists decades ago. The boys were running around in a large group playing dodge ball (still legal in this park); the girls were standing around or using the swings, chatting with one or two friends.
Both sexes were still ignoring grown-ups' advice to play together, and maybe they knew best. Certainly they had been right about computers. Grown-ups' angst over the digital gender gap looks quaintly irrelevant now that teenage girls are addicted to instant messaging and the majority of Internet users in the States are female. Girls had no trouble adapting to computers once the machines did something that interested them. While academics plotted to get boys and girls playing together on computers, the kids seemed to recognize all along that it was a lame idea. (NYTmag)