Hello, Barbie, please stop responding

Addison Smith | Opinions Editor

When I was younger, all I wanted for my birthday was this talking Arthur plush. He could remember names and could tell me the time, and read Arthur books out loud to me. Anyone who knows me knows Arthur is one of my favorites, and to have Arthur say “Addie”? Count young me in.

Turns out, the talking Arthur plush wasn’t that cool. He soon became my glorified watch because the only thing he could do correctly was tell me the time (if I added an hour, he was set in Central Standard Time). My hopes for “Addie” emerging from Arthur’s lips were shot in the foot, technology had failed me. Arthur wasn’t going to be my new friend.

So instead, I learned to make my own friends developing into the social butterfly I am today, no one wants to be the girl that talks to her stuffed animals all the time. Arthur’s glitches were beneficial to me because they helped me grow socially. Now, I know how to talk to people and not the stuffed animals I own (because, yes, I do still own stuffed animals).

Fast forward 16 years and technology is blooming. We have self-driving cars (in prototype, but still cool). Our phones can connect us to things we never knew were possible. Robots can play you in basketball and air hockey at the Carnegie Science Center. Technology has advanced in a lot of ways, and its growth has expanded to children’s toys.

Introducing Hello Barbie, a Barbie doll that can hold a conversation with its owner. No, it’s not telling you the time. It is holding a personal one-on-one conversation with you and giving appropriate responses. In a video preview by Chip Chick, it describes Hello Barbie as a talking doll who learns to adapt to your likes and dislikes by using her connection to wi-fi network.

She also has voice recognition software, so she knows when she’s talking to her owner compared to another person. Through wi-fi, Mattel can push new content through the cloud to your Hello Barbie, keeping her current, like Apple does with your iPhone.

Cool? Or creepy? In the video posted by Chip Chick, the person demonstrating and holding a conversation with the Barbie tells the doll she loves to be on stage. Later, she asks Barbie what she should be when she grows up. Barbie’s response? “Well… You told me you like to be on stage, so maybe a dancer, or a politician. Or maybe… a dancing politician!”

The doll recognized her owner’s voice, maintained a conversation with her about New York City and Italian food (which apparently Barbie has never tried) and gave her cheery and comedic career advice. She learns to adapt to you and, through software updates, with you.

Personally, I wouldn’t want my child to play with a toy like this. It takes away the fun and benefits of human interaction. As stated earlier, my Arthur’s inability to speak back enabled me to make friends and push my boundaries.

However, Hello Barbie may also be able to take a shy, introverted, inward girl and help her interact with those around her. She’s a two-sided coin, and if used correctly Barbie can help girls to grow. If used incorrectly, Barbie will push girls to retreat into themselves.

It all depends on the parenting and the girl (or boy) playing with Hello Barbie the effect the toy will have. It can either close a child off from her friends and the rest of the world, or it can help a child feel confident enough to make friends.

I’m sticking by the doll having a creepy factor, though. And maybe it’s my constant watching of Criminal Minds, but the possibility of someone hacking into the Barbie cloud software and communicating with a child through Barbie seems too probable.

Needless to say, as much as I want to enjoy new technology and am counting down the days until my car can drive me around, the Hello Barbie is not something I will be picking up anytime soon.