I've been sitting in placid unhappiness through a session on "Virtual Playgrounds and Buddybots" at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference. One presenter after another keeps the audience in thrall with comedy-horror stories about all kinds of Barbiebots, virtual Hilary Duffs, and other fake avatars designed to lure unsuspecting kids into a state of buy-now submission. In the Q&A section, the questions and comments are all about how Canada (where such stuff is proscribed by law, apparently) is way ahead of us. Nobody is questioning this Josie and the Pussycats nightmarescape of teen brainwashing until I hear a highpitched, querulous, acidly ironic voice that can only belong to the great Gary Wolf, cutting through the haze:
"I keep hearing about this kind of direct marketing to teens and how effective it is; this idea that we're going to turn kids into these robotic buying machines is the kind of thing that really works great for a CEO making a presentation to investors about how hot his new teen site is gonna be. But is there any data out there that any of this stuff actually works? I mean, I've seen a million presentations like this from CEOs whose companies are out of business now. Is there any reason to believe that kids actually go for this stuff?" *
With all due respect to the speakers, who provided some funny descriptions of teenbots, the most memorable reply Gary received was a statistic about the rapid growth of teenage fellatio rings. Common sense momentarily prevails!
As Nick noted earlier today, it's not what toys you give the kid, it's how the kid plays with them.
* Apologies for an inept paraphrase.