Usually not one to be accused of forward thinking, toymaker Mattel announced the latest technologically enhanced addition to its popular Barbie line at the New York Toy Fair: Hello Barbie.
Hailed as the first Barbie you can have a real conversation with, Hello Barbie was developed by San Francisco startup ToyTalk to be a properly interactive doll that makes use of wifi and the cloud to record, upload and learn from a child’s conversations, then respond in a manner tailored to the individual. Barbie will receive continual updates from the cloud to ensure its pop culture references are up to date and not laden with obsolete Saved by the Bell jokes.
Hello Barbie has already come under fire for privacy concerns, and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is calling on Mattel ‘to stop the marketing and production’ of this ‘seriously creepy’ toy. And while these criticisms are theoretically valid, they don’t take into consideration that, so far, Mattel have pretty much screwed up every chance they’ve had to modernise Barbie and keep her relevant in the 21st century. From a (pre-recorded) talking version of Barbie that spouted such empowering phrases as ‘Math is hard’ to a book starring Barbie as a computer engineer who could neither computer nor engineer, Mattel has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted with technology or, indeed, children. Even if we take a giant leap of faith and assume the doll will function as intended, it will likely do nothing more than use all of that uploaded data to create increasingly hip ways of saying that women’s suffrage will be the death of the nation and that barefoot and pregnant is the latest catwalk fashion. Not creepy, then, so much as…well, more of the same.