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Child’s play

Colouring-in books and preschool for grown-ups: because why should kids have all the fun?

ColouringInBook
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Publishers are enjoying a boom in an unlikely genre: colouring-in. For grown-ups. In the past month, colouring books have topped non-fiction bestseller lists in France, the UK, the US, New Zealand and China. Shanghai Daily notes that they have “become a trendy way to kill time and take pressure off for young office workers and new mums”. The surge, the Daily Telegraph notes, can be ascribed “in part to the current vogue for mindfulness, a meditation which, at its simplest, involves focusing completely on what you’re doing”.

It is part of a wider “Peter Pan market”, writes the New Yorker’s Adrienne Raphel. In the US, “summer camps for adults” are on the rise, along with events such as Preschool Mastermind, “a series of weekly preschool classes for adults in Brooklyn: participants make crafts with glitter glue, have naptime and pose for class pictures”.

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The colouring-inners, however, have their detractors. Sir Quentin Blake is “completely against” the practice as a substitute for drawing. While it has a place “as part of a more interesting diet”, the illustrious illustrator tells the Times, children are better advised to “plunge in and do what you want to do”.

Susan Linn, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, similarly regards adults’ engagement in the pursuit as imaginatively limited. While it might be “soothing and enjoyable”, she says, according to the New Yorker, “it’s a fundamentally more directed and restrictive activity than painting something from scratch”. More scathing still is author Susan Jacoby. Her view, says the New Yorker, is that “adults who immerse themselves in escapist fantasies like colouring books, camps and preschool are regressing into safe patterns in order to avoid confronting the world around them”.

Whatever the motivation, it’s surely just a matter of time till we get the truly “adult” publishing-sensation hybrid: Fifty Shades of Colouring In.

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The yearning for meditative escapes may be what separates us from the robots. Elusive human quirks have made the development of advanced artificial intelligence – a mainstay of science fiction – “slower than expected”, writes Anna Solana at ZDNet. Ramon López de Mántaras, director of Spain’s Artificial Intelligence Research Institute, has pointed to a lack of progress on “common sense reasoning”, she notes. He’s sceptical of forecasts predicting that the technological singularity – in which artificial intelligence becomes capable of self-improvement – will arrive within 30 years. “If there is no big change in computer science, it won’t happen.”

López de Mántaras has nevertheless signed, with dozens of other experts, an open letter calling for international co-operation in a discipline whose “impact on society is likely to increase”. It reads: “We cannot predict what we might achieve when [our] intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable. Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.”

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An essential read in the Guardian these days concerns a rather more prosaic technology: kitchen gadgets. Rhik Samadder’s previous reviews include the Wifi Kettle and the Egg Cuber; his latest assesses The Egg Master, “a vertical grill encased in silicone housing”. The device promises “a new way to prepare eggs”, which is accurate, says Samadder, “in the way that chopping off your legs could be described as a new way to lose weight”. Adorned in “hot pink and stippled black rubber”, the Egg Master “screams cut-price, mail-order adult toy”.

How does it work? “As instructed, I crack two whole eggs into the hot tunnel, trying to ignore the gurgling sound from within ... I squint into the dark opening. A bulging yellow sac peers back at me ... Then, without warning, a flaccid, spongy log half jumps from the machine, writhing like an alien parasite in search of a host body.” And the taste? “Not the best. As I dry heave into the sink, I try to remember if I read about this machine in the Book of Revelation.”

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