They’re Making Barbies That Can Talk Back To You, And It’s Kinda Creepy
Do you remember the 2000 Disney movie Life-Size staring Tyra Banks and Lindsey Lohan? While technology is still a long way’s away from being able to actually bring your dolls to life, Mattel’s figured out a way to make your Barbie do the next best thing: talk to you. Well, sort of.
Last month, at the Toy Fair in New York, Mattel revealed its newest product, the world’s first interactive Barbie Doll. Meet Hello Barbie.
Hello Barbie works by recording children’s voices (after they press a button on her wrist) and then using a Wi-Fi connection to send the recording to Toy Talk, a software maker, which then analyzes the data, and again, using that Wi-Fi connection, responds through the doll, giving the illusion that not only is your child’s Barbie doll listening to him or her, but she’s responding too. Loaded with Siri-like technology, Mattel hopes that Hello Barbie will be the product that reinvigorates the brand’s sales, which have dropped for the last three consecutive years.
While Hello Barbie certainly represents a new frontier for children’s toys, so far it’s drawn more criticism than compliments.
Susan Linn, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, has criticized the product for making kids believe they’re “only talking to a doll” when “they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial.” Linn, who has led successful campaigns in the past against the non-educational Baby Einstein videos and the sexually suggestive Pussycat Doll Dolls, is taking up Hello Barbie as her new cause du jour, and has already built a sizable social media campaign against Mattel.
While Mattel currently has no plans to drop the doll, which won’t even hit shelves until November, this unprecedented amount of press looks like it could do more to harm the sales of the $74 dolls than to help them. Ultimately, Mattel’s sales will depend on whether the public embraces Hello Barbie as an innovative technology, or shuns it as a cheap ploy to bring Big Brother into the homes of millions of Americans.