David Moseley

Don’t give gifts that can be abandoned

2014-11-27 08:21

Pets are not the only the gifts that end up being abandoned after the initial euphoria of Christmas Day unwrapping. As companies strive to produce the perfect present we’ll soon be left with an army of neglected, disgruntled and Internet-connected toys that will make Chucky seem like a sweet summer dream.

Earlier in the week I read the Guardian’s Charlie Brooker’s take on the creepy, weird and unnecessary toys gullible parents are tricked into buying for the precious children at Christmas time.

One item that piqued the writer’s interest was a doll called My Friend Cayla, something billed as “the best friend doll that you can connect to your smart phone or tablet”.

I’m not sure what saddens me more about that description – dolls that connect to tablets, or that kids young enough to play with dolls are assumed to (and obviously do) have smart phones and tablets.

Essentially the doll is connected to the Internet and kids can ask it harmless questions, which Cayla, and her cold, dead, calculating eyes then responds to benignly while simultaneously plotting the downfall of mankind with her older pals, T-1000 and ED-209.

Conservative mothers need not fear, however, because the packaging promises “Google SafeSearch technology has been utilised in the backend to prevent Cayla from sharing material of an inappropriate nature.” Those not familiar with technology-speak shouldn’t be alarmed. Backend has nothing to do with Cayla’s bum.

After reading the article I wondered if South African children would be waking up to similarly daft Christmas presents in a month’s time. (They could very well, as Cayla is available through local online stores if you care to search).

I wasn’t left to wonder too long because in my email inbox this morning was a promotion for Ollie, The App Controlled Robot.

Ollie sounded infinitely cooler (and friendlier) than the sinister looking Cayla, who’s really nothing more than a midget know-it-all who’ll probably end up strangling you in the night if you fail to follow her baking instructions to the very letter. Remember, with these toys we’re one wild lightning strike away from them becoming self-sufficient.

But then I clicked on the link embedded in the mail. Ollie, far from my initial image of a tiny robot man who could fetch my beers at the Newlands New Year’s cricket Test, is nothing more than a larger than usual toilet-roll holder with rubbery wheels wrapped around it.

Ollie, it’s safe to say, will be this year’s biggest Christmas disappointment. Despite the enthusiastic promises that he’s a “robot engineered for speed, programmed for tricks, and customized by you”, Ollie appears to possess the same Christmas charisma as a Clicks hand lotion and body wash gift set.

But wait! Ollie can also apparently “launch over the competition” (you mean there’s more than one app-controlled electronic loo paper holder?) “at floor-warping speeds”.

Not only does Ollie warp floors (something that actually sounds almost as destructive as a talking doll that could, when hacked by your inevitably tech-savvier 3-year-old, provide home-made pipe-bomb instructions) but he can also “turn on a dime with the included Nubby Tires or take them off to drift like a street racer… Ollie glows in millions of colors and is ready to roll out.”

I’m sure Ollie is ready to roll out. In fact, I’m sure Cayla and Ollie are in on it together, silently sending each other software updates (and your nude selfies) via a self-aware PlayStation 4 that’s tired of having Nik-Naks dust and Fanta poured over it by a fatty that hasn’t seen sunlight in since the original PlayStation was launched.

Left unchecked and discarded, as these gimmick presents often are, our near future could soon consist of numerous Ollies whirring and whizzing about, blinding us with their millions of colours and tripping us up with their floor-warping speed.

By purchasing so blindly, we’ll have unwittingly unleashed an army of hackable Internet robots who take their orders from an insufferable 45cm-tall windbag, determined to disco light us to death, all because 9-year-olds across the world drove Cayla insane with their inane questions.

Alternatively, for a thousand bucks, you could buy 12kg of cheese. There haven’t been too many instances of self-aware cheese over the years. And everyone loves cheese.

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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