Makerspace Consortium takes on Barbie

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One of the lecturers for the talk gives a fascinating perspective on the talking Barbie doll and its implications on child imagination and child play. (Andrew Cassarino | Concordiensis)

We need to talk about Barbie. The Makerspace Consortium recently hosted a particularly enlightening lecture on the child’s toy Hello Barbie.

Apparently, Barbie has lately been up to shenanigans that have attracted the attention of disapproving parents everywhere, as well as Union’s MakerWeb.

The lecture incorporated not only the main focus of the censure, but the technological fundamentals of the toy, how it is used and why it is not only a threat to child creativity, but to global privacy as well.

Hello Barbie is a toy from the Mattel Corporation that takes your average Barbie and programs it with dialogue technology, making it more or less capable of holding conversation with the child.

The immediate source of public discomfort here is that this is an intrusion on the play space of young children, who, with any doll, must use their imagination to come up with voices and storylines for their toys.

This open dialogue toy also restricts social collaboration with other children, as it established a one on one relationship between the doll and the child.

“When a girl is playing with any doll, she can give it any role she wants it to have,” says computer scientist Valerie Barr, one of the presenters. “It’s going to diminish pretend play.”

Barr expresses her concern that, for young girls, their first exposure to technology will be a creativity limiting Barbie that formulates conversations such as: “Let’s talk about something really important: fashion!”

Young girls at Girls Inc. were interviewed while playing with Hello Barbie, with mixed results. Some girls enjoyed the toy, finding the new high-tech features cool, while others complained how it was creepy that the doll talked for herself.

However, it was evident throughout the filmed interview that the girls had to play with the doll one on one, and were unable to collaborate with one another.

Another demerit towards Hello Barbie is the Barbie aspect, independently.

Barbie has more or less maintained popularity throughout the years, with 90 percent of girls ages three to five owning at least one Barbie Doll.

An accusation Barbie is not unfamiliar with is the false sense of gender roles and female body stereotypes. This allegation can be demonstrated in the book, “Barbie: I can be a Computer Engineer.”

This book was brought to our attention by Jessica Sanford ’16, a computer engineer major.

By pulling out the unconscious sexism in the book, such as Barbie needing Steven and Brian’s help to make a computer game, Sanford validated the horror of Barbie being put inside technology.

The most worrying aspect about Hello Barbie was an argument addressed by Tom Yanuklis, Systems Administrator at Union, who provided evidence that Barbie is, in fact, watching and listening to you.

As a smart device that is incorporated into an electric grid, Barbie is another piece of technology that can, in fact, monitor those who play with it.

It doesn’t help that Hello Barbie has poor security. This promotes the possibility that foreign intelligence services, terrorist organizations, criminals and basically any global government can listen to what children say to their Barbie.

If that isn’t creepy enough to deter your purchase of Hello Barbie, note that Mattel does record the audio and keep it on their server.

If reading this has gotten you up in arms about Hello Barbie, you still have your chance to participate in the toy’s downfall.

This lecture was only one part of a series of events against Hello Barbie.

Coming next week, there will be a deconstruction of Hello Barbies on Feb. 18, in Wold 010.

In the days following, there will also be a mold making workshop where you can pour your own Barbie doll in any shape you wish, and a rebuilding workshop.

 

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