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Talking Dolls and the World of Tomorrow

by Emily Williams

October 8,2009

Unless you had decided to cut the cable, internet and any paper news media last month, it would have been difficult not to hear about the release of the new re-mastered Beatles albums from EMI on September 9th. On the same day, The Beatles Rock Band game for Xbox came on the market, with much applause and positive reviews. If the sharp and unparalleled clarity of the new albums wasn’t enough to please Beatles fans (and I’m one of them), now they can choose which Beatle they wish to portray through game mode, play on a plastic reproduction of one of the Fab Four’s instruments and sing along to their heart’s content. It’s the equivalent of stepping into the music and immersing yourself physically for a bit of role play or perhaps stepping back in time.

Given the new techno-centric culture we live in, it’s not surprising to see game developers coming up with new ways of delivering the media experience. Generation Y is encountering music, movies and pretty much everything else unlike anything their parents did and it’s worth noting how far some of this is going. A jaw-dropping example is the new YooStar. With a portable green screen, a specialized web cam and some software, you can star in scenes from a variety of modern or classic films by placing your image over the likes of Marilyn Monroe or Tom Hanks. After you create your mini-scene, upload the video to Facebook and share it with your friends. Voila: social networking and “Xtreme” home entertainment all wrapped into one package. It’s rather impressive, if not predictable for the current market.

When I see these trends in unprecedented self-entertainment on the rise, I’m intrigued and amused like anyone else. The only difference is that I’m at least old enough to remember just how much things have changed since the 80’s. Toys like Barbie dolls or stuffed dogs, for instance, didn’t walk or talk when I was a kid. Now, with voice command or a small remote control, lifeless plastic and synthetic fibers can recognize you, dance, speak, do back flips and walk – with no help from you! I remember being in awe in the mid-90’s when a talking Barbie doll came on the market, despite the fact that you had to push a button on her shoulder to hear her say that controversial phrase, “Math class is hard!” The day that these toys are finally manufactured to watch over your child in your stead or make a sandwich, I will throw up my hands. I often feel like telling these kids, “You have no idea how good you have it. When I was your age, we didn’t have Artificial Intelligence.”

Of course, there are far more sober issues at stake when you think about where we are now and where we have come from in terms of the role media plays in our lives. While it may be premature to worry about anything like this now, one wonders: what kind of impact will these sorts of games and amusements eventually have on communities or even economies down the road? Will the reasoning soon be, why should I go to the movies to see Tom Hanks when I can be Tom Hanks in the comfort of my living room? As technology progresses and improves these things, will a life-like, robotic (read: self-maintenance) dog seem a far more desirable choice than a real one? No need to take Fido to the park or feed him – he may eventually be able to do that himself. Technology and the internet should ultimately help communities come together, trade ideas and exchange information. They’re tools, remember, not crutches. Yes, it’s a farfetched idea of the future, but thanks to the imaginative genius of Steven Spielberg, who knows exactly how to get this concept across to the public (A.I., Minority Report), alas, one cannot help but consider what the future will bring.

Thankfully, from this stand point, I can only garner positive vibes from all of these new ideas. Charlotte continues to be an active city, bustling with energy at its core, and is latching on to new technologies in a productive way. In that sense, I definitely look forward to the future!

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