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de Vos: Brave new world, Volume 14

Jon de Vos
The Friday Report
Jon DeVos
Staff Photo |

My new electric toothbrush is Bluetooth enabled. When I pick it up, a little blue light tells me so. If you had one too, maybe we could talk to each other while we brushed. Maybe with the right toothbrush app, I could post cute cat videos to my Facebook page.

Am I missing something? Are Bluetooth and toothbrush related in some way that totally escapes me? Why would a toothbrush be Bluetooth enabled? Gotta find out.

Okay, I’m back but you’re not gonna like the answer. Seems there’s a toothbrush app you can download to your smartphone. Then, maybe even in your mom’s voice, your phone reminds you when it’s time to brush and cautions you when you’re brushing too hard. It also tracks your brushing habits and judges your performance, sending you helpful brushing tips from time to time.

I think internet-connected toothbrushes would send normal men to the streets shouting, “THE END IS NEAR!” With technology, when do you quit? It’s not just a matter of talking toothbrushes, how do you know when you’ve simply gone too far?

Well, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) says Hello Barbie, the first internet-connected doll goes too far. Poke her in the belt buckle and she’ll strike up a chummy conversation with your daughter. The doll can hold a really intelligent conversation except it turns out that it’s actually between your daughter and some unwashed, software-coding misfit, wearing goggles and last week’s underwear, free-lancing for Mattel in his mom’s basement.

A few months back I warned both my readers about Mattel’s “Hello Barbie” doll. The new Barbie is not just a disturbingly mega-chested playmate anymore. It turns out Hello Barbie is now a mega-chested internet playmate who can be hacked easier than Secret Service personnel files. The doll can be turned on remotely, not only to record every conversation in the room, but may also be able to access home computers through Wi-Fi networks.

Former Mattel CEO, Bryan Stockton, swore Mattel engineers would never, ever, cheat on highway emissions, but listening in and recording the conversations of little girls and their friends? No problem!

Mattel has even reserved the right to sift through the “good stuff” to sell to lawyers and parents to present in custody and divorce hearings. But, of course, being a responsible, socially-conscious company, they promised not to do that, cross their fingers and hope to lie, just like Volkswagen promised clean air.

Stockton, who championed Hello Barbie, recently got fired. His creepy creation wasn’t selling well. In fact, lots of people hated the idea. The doll bred its own social media phenomenon “#HellnoBarbie”. Under Stockton’s watch, annual world-wide sales of Barbie products dropped from a high of 1.8 billion to a paltry one billion in 2014.

No advertising, Mattel promised, but nothing in the parental agreement prevents the doll from asking, “Do you think mommy has enough Fruity Oat Pebbles for breakfast tomorrow? All my friends like Fruity Oat Pebbles so much. Would you be my friend and have some Fruity Oat Pebbles with me? Can you tell mommy the name of the fun cereal all my friends like?”

Critics point out that when children talk to Barbie, they really aren’t talking to a doll, they’re talking to a manufacturing conglomerate whose only interest in children is financial.

“Hello Barbie is a terrible toy that threatens children’s privacy, well-being and creativity,” said Josh Golin, CCFC’s executive director. Other scathing comments include . . . wait, what’s that buzzing? Better find out.

Okay, I’m back, it was my toothbrush calling. It told me that Barbie has a very attractive smile and I should back off.

Objects in the future may be nearer than you think.


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