Hello Barbie: the cyberdoll connected to internet

barbie_smartArticle after article, step by step, we try to underline the mutual contaminations between the real world and the virtual one (internet). Our web’ sociological analysis highlights new dynamics and changes as well as new customs, ways of doings or communicating which modify thanks to or because of the net.
It is no coincidence the fact that for better explaining this social (and virtual) process, we use very strong terms such as “contamination“, “viral” or “global“, even though with a non-negative interpretation, terms generally used for indicating a rapid condition of contagion, resulting from a fast and inevitable spread of a virus.
Like other aspects that characterize our daily lives, the game is suffering the influence of the net too. We have already explained in a previous article  how Lego has created a community of mindstorm costumers/designers, generating new game dynamics and sharing for new models Lego.
Another world-famous brand, the Mattel, has been wondering how to renew his main product, on the line in terms of sale: the Barbie doll.
The basis for the new Barbie 2.0 project (deployed in collaboration with the Californian Company ToyTalk) is the precondition to catch the attention of a new generation of children, accustomed to use highly interactive games, proactive, able to stimulate their game.
From the social point of view, regardless the advent of internet, it is necessary to underline how the dynamics of the game, based on the Barbie dolls, benefited from the presence of more children in the same family or from groups of “next-door” children who were seeing each other daily, therefore of small (real) communities in support of the game dynamics.
The 21st century’s children are generally very interactive, dynamic, demanding and often used to play alone, elements which have put lots of our Barbies in the drawer, even though carefully packed, well-dressed and well-brushed.
“Why don’t you ever play with your Barbies? You have the drawer full! … I have no one to play with…”
To identify the main reasons that make the Barbie doll not fashionable anymore, it is necessary to set the qualities of the new Barbie: the new Barbie has to companion the children, to be interactive, assist them in playing, stimulate the curiosity, in other words, SHE must be renewed.
The solution is simple: the new “Hello Barbie“, connected to internet, endowed with vocal synthesizer, manages to guess the question asked by the child and extrapolate an answer from her central database, contacted in real time through the net.
We know that a part of our readers were born and raised in the 20th century, therefore they will be horrified by the idea that their favorite toy, fueled by my personal vivid imagination, may evolve in a multimedia version, robotics.
We have to be honest, we, the “otherwise digital” users, feel a little bit like the actors of the silent film era in front of the first film endowed with audio, in a word: disorientated.
Fueling further this feeling of bewilderment is the alarm spread recently online on the possibility that the questions asked by our children could be stored on a central server, analysed and statistically evaluated. The Barbie doll who looks like “Orwellian Big brother?”
If we don’t let this unlikely alarmist rumours distract us, we may see why this version of “robocop” Barbie has its charms: we live in a dynamic society, multimedia and interactive, but less communal comparing to the one of 1959th, year when the first Barbie has been commercialized! The children, like the adults, maybe too soon, have too many daily commitments: sporting, musical, educational… and they have few occasions of a completely free play. Each of these commitments involves transfers and it reduces the time for the free play and, indirectly, it reduces the occasions when the children may play with other children, all this while the number of the toys, per every single child, has increased.
The smart tools such as video games consoles, smartTv, highly interactive electrical and electronic games have increased the receptive and implementing ability of the child who pretends stimuli to promptly connect with. In short, today’s children are more “alone”, fast and demanding.
The New Barbie is therefore the temporary arrival point of a society very social and less aggregating, very fast but endowed with less free time.
Moreover, it is quite clear why the Barbie doll has always been a role model, an anchor in the collective imagination! The fact that SHE is not only beautiful but also loquacious, able to express an opinion, it allows her, to overcome her own stereotype based only on beauty, even if through a robotic subterfuge.
The new Barbie is therefore a direct expression of the 21st century and maybe for this reason, SHE will be very successful, (unless somebody else would invent another doll, much more intelligent and interactive).
Let’s not forget that the new characteristics don’t preclude any of the previous dynamics of the play, we still can change her clothes, brush her hair, change her accessories, play with our best friend…
Some detail of a technical type: the doll, for now available only as a prototype, therefore not for sale yet, is endowed with Wi-fi connection, has two batteries incorporated in her legs, and SHE is able to listen and answer thanks to a vocal synthesis system. Are you curious? Here is the new Barbie.

The new Barbies, the Lego, the Uber taxis, the eBooks, the video streaming, the music on demand, the APPs, the instantmessengers, are all examples where the net becomes, in an amazing way, part of our everyday life.
We are all cybernauts always connected online, the Barbie doll included.


LEGO bricks and 2.0 web communities

Often real situations and virtual situations end up by influencing each other and each of them activates behaviors, countermeasures, attitudes, beginning with impulses from the “other space”, whether real or cyber.
The case I am about to introduce you is certainly one of these, but before giving you the details, a short encyclopedic premise is needed.
The definition of community offered by garzanti’s dictionary is a little bit archaic but very clear: “a group of people who lives on the same territory or who has origins, traditions, ideas or common interests.”
The community represents one of the main elements of development in human history. Belonging to a group conceded the safeguarding of our species as well as its evolution. The sharing of perceptions, intuitions, tools, etc permitted us to improve ourselves, to create new and more complex social models and life styles. The confrontation gave energy to our ideas, we explained ourselves, even if sometimes we offended each other, in the end we stood up for each other, we built and improved our habitat, we refined our tools and our lives.
We belong to a community, we have ideas, traditions and common interests and thanks to this physical proximity as well as to the same thought and language we stay united and, consequently, become better each day.
The virtual community, “made” online, has analogous characteristics. It mixes interests, opinions, people and actions. Those people who belong to a community feel they have “something” in common.
I know I repeat myself, but I have to remind our readers how web, as an open system, permits each of us to belong to a network of people in an easy way and free from infrastructures, therefore,to share thoughts and actions with the other cybernauts, known or unknown in the real world, in no time.
The virtual community is, from the sociological and relational point of view, comparable to a real community. It replaces the intensity o a physical contact with the immediacy of a chat or a video and the empathy of a look with the infinite relational weave available online.
Let us go to the point, and that is to our example.
Who among us has never played with the LEGO bricks? For the undersigned, a child in the 1970s, years deprived of video games and commercial television as well as color tv, the LEGO bricks were an explosion of colors, a wall to be climbed with the imagination, they were “my” game.
A game apparently simple, where manual skills and imagination permit a child to plan, create, experience.
In the 1980s and 1990s, LEGO was subject to a strong competition of the interactive games with a “high-technology content”, therefore, a progressive loss of market which put the company in great difficulty.
At the beginning of the 21st century, LEGO, maybe at its height of the financial crisis, tried to reach the young ones with a new product range, the mindstorm LEGO.
The idea, on which the new range is based on, is excellent; it offers a kit for the construction of a robot by mixing bricks and technology.
I suppose the main purpose is to attract the interest of the youngest ones, the preteens, with a complex planning target and a high-level technology in condition to compete with the electronic games.
We live in a world in constant change and, as in this case, may happen that an idea, a production line, turns out to be, from the very beginning, something totally different from what was supposed to and designed for, from what was thought by the LEGO managers as a “good product” for the youngsters.
A different target of consumers, sometimes even older than the one I mantioned before, has adopted these kit and has begun to mix the components creating new innovative forms, new robots.
As a result, a community of planners mindstorm has been created spontaneusly online, capable of subverting the original project, creating new things, sharing them, modifying and remodifying them over and over again.
From what I’ve read on internet, from unreliable sources (who knows, if true), the LEGO leadership didn’t expect this change. It was written that the managers found themselves in great difficulty and that they were thinking of untrusting the work to inventors in training who might well revolutionize the product’s nature.
Later on, or perhaps immediately after, we will never know for sure, the change happened and Lego made room for the mindstorm designers, creating a place only for them as well as additionals features like “Upload your robot” that gave the possibility to present one’s own innovative solution, unique. Today a “mindstormer” can expose his creation, explain how to disassamble it, reassamble it and turn it upside-down or how to create a new robot. In this way a community has been created, a community based on imagination and on originality.
Shortly after, to the community LEGO, were added assemblies organized by the same company, collaborations between LEGO and some of the community’s protagonists as well as the implementation of a new generation of software tools able to create, along with LEGO, new social thematic spaces devoted to the planning.
Today LEGO is a company which has succeeded in loyalizing new consumers, as we may say in jargon, it “repositioned itself” by succeeding in creating new spaces and new opportunities, by listening to the consummers’ wishes and allowing them to express and share their own creativity.
We are dealing with a history 2.0 where internet has functioned as a communication tool and a social network and where the absence of obstacles has permitted the spontaneous creation of a web community capable of sharing a sincere interest, of revolutionizing, renewing and amplifying a trade proposal.
As happens lots of times, the real world didn’t know how to anticipate this necessity, but it was succesful in observing attentively what was going on and, progressively, in becoming an active part of it.
Today LEGO is the propeller of this community of underground designers.
Brick after brick we are building a world more and more 2.0.