BOOMbox at Home: Friendship Wars

A messy pile of buttons or all colors, shapes, and types.

This summer, the BOOMbox is exploring summer adventures! And what better way to have an adventure than through a book.

Would you end a lifelong friendship over a bunch of old buttons? That’s exactly what happens in Andrew Clements’s The Friendship War. For 6th grade BFFs Grace and Ellie, a bunch of old buttons turn their friendship into an all out middle school war.

Sound familiar? Consider this--have you ever traded Pokémon cards at recess or had your fidget spinner taken by a teacher? Have you worn so many rubber bracelets that they went from your wrist to your elbow on both arms? We know you did. These are all known as fads. Fads are “sudden, quick-spreading, and short-lived” interests in an object or behavior.

Fads are not new--read about top fads in America since 1920, and seriously strange fads in history. Compared to attending watch parties for nuclear bomb tests, collecting Beanie Babies doesn’t sound so ridiculous, does it? The good news is that annoying fads, like flossing and fidget spinners, usually disappear as fast as they begin.

On the other hand, there are fads that become part of our culture. Ever heard of video games? Gaming started in 1972 with the introduction of the Odyssey, the first video game home console, and Atari’s Pong, the first arcade video game. These games aren’t going away any time soon--video games are now a nearly $200 billion global industry. You can even get a college degree in video game design. Try telling your grandparents that you’re going to college to get a degree in video games. They may laugh or cry, but they definitely will be puzzled.

Are Buttons Technology, Tools, or Decoration?

In The Friendship War, buttons are the fad of choice. Though you’ve possibly never considered buttons (or zippers) to be technology, they are. When people first picked up rocks to pound on things 3 million years ago, technology was born. Technology is much more than computers. The most simple definition of technology is applying science to solve practical problems. When you hit a nail with a hammer, that’s technology. If you’ve ever used an abacus, that’s technology. In fact, the abacus was the first calculating machine. 

Which brings us back to buttons. According to An Encyclopedia of the History of Technology, buttons were "originally used more as an ornament than as a fastening.” The book states that the earliest known buttons are about 5,000 years old. They were found at an archeological dig at Mohenjo-daro, in what is now Pakistan. Buttons weren’t widely used as fasteners until button holes were invented in 13th-century Germany. 

Here’s some more interesting button trivia: 
In the 16-1700s, buttons became a way of bragging about your money. It is rumored that King Louis XIV of France spent more than $5 million on fancy buttons in his lifetime.

The first buttons made from celluloid, an early form of plastic, in the 1860s. 

Koumpounophobia is the fear of buttons on clothing. Although it’s a very rare condition, one notable person who suffered from it was Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple and Pixar Animation Studios. Some people believe that this fear might have influenced the designs for Apple’s mouse and the rise of touch screens for iPhones and tablets.

Have you ever noticed that men’s jackets usually have buttons on the sleeves? The story goes that King Frederick the Great of Prussia started this style in the 18th century to make it uncomfortable for soldiers to wipe their noses on coat sleeves.

Collecting and Collections

Like the students in the The Friendship Warspeople like collecting things. It might be buttons, glass animals, movie posters, or seashells. Starting a collection can be fun, like a treasure hunt. You can shop in person and online. Collecting can be relaxing and helps connect us with history. You can learn a lot about history and economics when you collect. Some items are free, like shells or rocks. Some may cost a bit of money, and some collections can be downright ridiculous, like $9,000 for a VHS tape version of Beauty and the Beast and $14,700 for one packet of McDonald's Mulan Szechuan Sauce.

People frequently begin collecting items that they hope to sell someday for a great deal of money. Sometimes that happens, but many times it does not, so it’s important to love what you collect because it’s not guaranteed to make you rich. Among the collections that aren’t really valuable any more are vinyl records, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, Hummel and Precious Moments figurines, stamps, Beanie Babies, train sets, collector plates, cookie jars, autographed sports items, and ceramic salt and pepper shakers. 

Since 1999, kids have loved to collect and trade Pokémon cards. While they’ve always been popular, the pandemic seems to have had a big, positive impact on Pokémon--Pokémon card sales increased 574% from 2019 to 2020. If you’re new to trading cards, here are a few resources to learn more: 

Scientist of the Week

It looks like the old science fiction movies got it all wrong--machines aren’t perfect. How do we know this? Joy Buolanwini realized that computers were programmed to be biased when her face couldn’t be seen by facial recognition software. When she wore a white mask, the software recognized the mask, but still not her face. The software that didn't detect her face was coded without considering that people have a wide range of skin tones and facial structures.

In her 2020 TED Talk, Buolanwini outlines the problem--it’s us! Well, not specifically us, but the computer programmers who inserted their prejudices into the process of creating artificial intelligence (AI). Watch Buolanwini’s spoken poem “AI, Ain’t I A Woman”, which demonstrates in a disturbing way just how badly programmed facial recognition systems are. Her research helped convince Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft to reprogram their facial recognition technology.

Written by Pam.