Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Smart toys?

Ok, as if iTeDDy wasn't enough for now, another potentially popular electronic toy for toddlers is the unimaginatively titled 'Puppy grows and knows your name'. This toy grows from puppy size to full size over time and linked to a computer by USB can be personalised to recognise a child's name, birthday and so on. The marketing blurb suggests that 'together you will sing songs and play a fun barking game'. Can't wait to hear that...anyhow, I am flying to Australia tomorrow, back in a few weeks and not sure how much opportunity I will get to blog, so don't expect any posts for a while. In the meantime, an interesting read is Lydia Plowman and Rosemary Luckin's article on 'smart toys'. Wonder what they would make of the growing and knowing puppy?

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Happy birthday?

Well, I do have a 3-year-old nephew with an upcoming birthday and so it was not for purely research reasons that I purchased an iTeDDy this week...although I am tempted to keep it a little longer! I liked the fact that my family was able to make a short video for my nephew in which we sang “Happy birthday” to him and then uploaded the video onto the MP3 player, along with family photographs and some of his favourite songs. OK, so no doubt when he is able to, some of these files will be the first he deletes, but we liked the idea! The manufacturers are emphasising the receptiveness of iTeDDy to user-generated content, so it will be interesting to examine how families use this feature, if at all, and how children react to it. I will report here if my nephew howls with joy or horror at his family’s rendition of the birthday song coming straight at him from his iTeDDy’s tummy...

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Hi to iTeDDy

There is widespread interest in iTeDDy in the UK, which recently launched itself at a press conference. This MP3 playing teddy is set to be the number-one selling toy this Christmas, according to the superstore Argos. Given how much children love cuddly creatures with technology embedded in their tummies (remember the Teletubbies?), then I would not be surprised. The adult interest in this toy reminds us of the social and cultural roles that toys play in society, as discussed by cultural theorists such as Barthes and Agamben. Children are inducted into society's technological interests and practices through such toys, as I argued five years ago now in this piece. Whilst the article might now be old and outdated, I stick by the sentiments!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Parent power

Online sites aimed at children are becoming increasingly focused on giving parents and carers reassuring messages about safety- they realise that the path to commercial success has to take account of parental needs. Club Penguin is popular with parents because of its limited chat possibilities and the close monitoring of open chat, strategies that are explained carefully to parents in specially marked areas of the site. The social networking site aimed at 8-14 year-olds, imbee, even considers the needs of parents whose technical skills might be less well developed than their children’s. Their marketing brief states:

"For adults who might be intimidated by technology, has made its powerful parental monitoring tools easy-to-use and making it simple for parents and guardians to have effective insight and control over their child’s online activities."

These moves are proving to be persuasive (link here for an example of a parental review of Club Penguin, for example). For younger children, this attention to the needs of parents will be irrelevant to their own engagement with these social networking sites - what do they care who else the sites they like cater for as long as they are fun for them? But at a later age, children will start to get a little itchy about this... it would be interesting to trace children’s developing sensitivity to social networking sites’ orientations to the parental audience. Another project I'll never have time for,'s enough just to be focused on tracing children's changing interests in popular culture and media and considering the implications for educators!

I will be away from a computer for the next 10 days, so no more blog posts from me for a while. I hope to be seeing some sea life, not the virtual penguin kind (fun though that is), here.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Virtual worldz

The virtual world market for young children continues to grow, with the news that Disney have just bought Club Penguin for 350 million dollars(set to be £700m if the site meets targets). In the meantime, check out Webkinz, which requires you to purchase a pet in the 'real' world before you can join the virtual one. A parent writes about his six-year-old son's experience of using it here. A big and growing business - just let's hope the producers begin to offer better fare for girls than the Barbie experience. Scary, then, that the Barbie Girls virtual world will soon be bigger than Second Life in terms of membership...

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Children and video games

I was a little concerned to hear that Boris Johnson MP is standing for election as London's Mayor, against Ken Livingstone. Have you read Johnson's ill-informed rant about children and computer games? Scary stuff. Maybe Boris hasn't read the review which highlights the inconsistencies in research that purports to demonstrate causality between playing computer games and violence. Let's hope the majority of London voters have more sense...