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Monday, March 30, 2015

Barbie Is Not Siri

Mattel is getting some attention for its new "interactive" Barbie, which has a microphone that listens to your child and uploads the audio to a server, which then replies a la Siri on an iPhone. A Mattel spokeswoman said that girls "want to have a conversation with Barbie," who will be "the very first fashion doll that has continuous learning, so that she can have a unique relationship with each girl."

There's been some blowback over privacy concerns, but that's not my problem with it. I hate the way this new doll removes a kid's imagination from the equation. My daughter didn't have a lot of dolls, but she had plenty of stuffed animals. She gave each one a name, and could sit in her room and provide both sides of a conversation with them, because she was using her brain to make stuff up.

That kind of creative play is a skill set every kid needs to develop early on -- not a reliance on a device that's going to tell them what they should be when they grow up, or what kind of clothes they should put on the doll, or what kind of activity they should engage in (e.g. buying other Mattel products?). Let them pretend -- giving any voice they like to the doll or stuffed animal or crayon picture, rather than a manufactured response unit designed to have only the kind of relationship a toy company decides is right.