One of the more poignantly amusing sights I've ever seen was a toddler climbing onto one of the benches in our local park and trying to take a bite out of one of its slats, recently repainted a glossy dark brown. As his gums closed on the thing's unyielding texture, his face crumpled in disappointment. 'Choc', he lisped, looking around with a puzzled air. 'He's just discovered chocolate,' I heard his mother explain to her companion, almost unnecessarily. 'Choc', the child repeated, wistfully, 'choc, choc.'
That was some time ago. Things have changed since then and I fear such simple pleasures may not be enough for the children of more recent generations - not if what some young parents told me at dinner last night is true.
These parents have a two-year-old and they also have an I-Pad. Apparently, the I-Pad is the apple of the two-year-old's eye (apple, I-Pad, geddit? Actually, it was unintentional, so don't grind your teeth at me like that). When he wakes from an afternoon nap, his first - indeed, his only - word is 'I-Pad'. He utters it in a coaxing, hopeful, go-on-please-indulge-me kind of tone. 'I-Pad?' he says, 'I-Pad?' And when he's allowed it, he can zoom straight to YouTube. 'Apparently, that means he's actually reading - he can recognise the YouTube logo, and that means he can read it,' the proud father assured me.
The child's mother seemed more ambivalent. According to her, her little son found a magazine in the kitchen yesterday. Rather than leafing through it, he tried to use the action you use on an I-Pad to move on to the next screen and looked up at her with wide eyes when the thing didn't behave as he expected. He was clearly concerned that the I-Pad was broken. The concept of a paper page was beyond his ken.
All this suggests to me that we're headed for a paperless future, which should please the hippies a friend of mine used to share a house with, who tossed away her box of teabags once in outrage, preserving a single specimen from the 80-odd the box contained. This they sellotaped above the sink, together with a post-it note, on which they'd scrawled an arrow pointing at the offending item, together with the furious message: 'Trees died for this!'