Terrible tech toy tortures toddlers and tweens

Apptivity Monkey

This Christmas, helpless toddlers everywhere will be subjected to the Fisher Price™ Laugh and Learn™ Apptivity™ Monkey.

We don’t own a TV, so I don’t see many ads. But since I love the NBC show Parenthood, I had to subscribe to HULU Plus to catch the show every week.

There, I’m subjected to the every-eight-minutes commercial assault on our minds, dignity, and behavior so central to the TV “experience.”

This, HULU Plus calls “limited commercial interruption.” I call it Hell.

Ever since my HULU subscription began a few weeks ago I’ve been seeing a raft of hideous ads for a slew of unconscionable products that should have never even been conceived, much less actually manufactured, distributed, advertised and bought by some poor dumb hapless consumer somewhere.

The worst toy for Christmas — or any time

Of all of these despicable ads for despicable products, my personal love-to-hate favorite is the Apptivity toy by Mattel, a merging of hand-held toys with a technology interface — either an iPad, iPhone, or iPod — on which to enjoy digital play with a physical component.

If the Devil himself incarnated into a toy it would be the Apptivity (though I’m sure plenty of other toys can give him a run for his dirty money).

Touting the Apptivity as “the future of fun,” Mattel says it “…brings toys to life and turns tablets into moving digital worlds!”  And its target market is the, “modern, tech-savvy family.”

Am I in this demographic because I like the show Parenthood? Blech!

Perhaps the worst in the suite of Apptivity nightmares is the Fisher-Price™ Laugh & Learn™ Apptivity™ Monkey (what, they couldn’t get the word “monkey” trademarked? Corporate slackers!)

The Monkey purports to be a learning toy for babies. When mom or dad (or your three-year-old sister) puts his or her iPhone or iPod inside the monkey’s belly, it’s time for the “interactive” e-fun™ to begin!

There are so many obvious levels of wrong to this toy that I almost can’t bear to go on to point them out. But I’ll buck up and do my best.

  • The monkey is allegedly for babies 6-36 months old, that computer-savvy age! What gives? Why is an e-toy designed for learning abstract information targeted at infants? Babies need free movement, tactile play, and open ended exploratory learning, NOT information utterly beyond their developmental capacity and reduced to the screen sphere. Have Fisher Price’s toy developers ever met a baby?
  • The monkey is a love letter to synthetics of all sorts — plastic e-interface, synthetic voice and music, synthetic fabrics, synthetic experience. Repulsive. Nothing with any life energy is in this toy.
  • It inculcates the youngest, most impressionable persons into a screen-first relational paradigm, depressing true interactivity with humans, animals and natural objects when it’s most crucial to the infant’s development.
  • The design of the monkey, all its graphics, and the tunage are typically garish, cartoonish, and lifeless, the polar opposite of the edifying examples of aesthetic pleasure that inspire a child to revere life and the world.
  • Made of plastic, shipped from far-flung locales, and dependent on electricity, it adds to baby’s carbon footprint for no good reason. And the Monkey can live on endlessly in the landfill (no biodegrading here) once it reaches its planned obsolescence in like, six months to a year.

Tweentivity terrors

The rest of the Apptivity toys feature horrific hand held plastic figurines — tricked out matchbox cars, brutish wrestlers, a steroid-heavy Batman, ghoulish school-girly sexy figures aimed at tweenie females, a Ninja, and jaunty little monsters — which, when paired with an iPad and FREE! App downloaded from the App Store, feature hyper aggressive music and graphics along with implied or explicit story lines steeped in the worst in human nature.

Who makes this bunk?

And don’t tell me “that’s what kids want.”

Kids want what we adults model and affirm as having worth and value. With toys like Apptivity we’re affirming some of the most loathsome, irredeemable, immoral, plastic-soaked loads of crap imaginable. And, “as you sow, so shall you reap.”

The older-child version of Apptivity has its list of unforgivable sins as well:

  • Screens, screens, screens, everywhere screens — does the corporate world not know or do they not care how this is dividing  families and ruining kids more and more every day? Maybe at Fisher Price they don’t know how to spell ADHD.
  • The developing child needs to move and interact with the world in three dimensions, not have its magical early explorations reduced to a finger and an endless series of bits and bytes. This is especially true for boys, who desperately need whole body movement for their development.
  • Apptivity’s play paradigms are all about violence, death realms, speed, caricatured human relationships, monstrosities, and, surprising in the 21st century, disempowering girls — again, not only nothing edifying for the child, but things patently degrading to the child.
  • An all-plastic, energy-dependent so-called “play” experience. Little Johnny and Little Susie’s global warming indulgence.

Even sadder, once they get it, kids will probably grow bored with Apptivity storylines in a few hours — that’s what e-attention spans get you. And new App stories (if developed) will likely cost upgrade fees or require new toy purchases, while the chance for lost parts, hampering the ability to “play,” is huge.

But that’s for the consumer to wrangle.

Let the buyer beware

I’m sure none of the tech-loving parents who would go so far as to buy this product and then defend its purported “merits” will care a fig for what I’ve written. But it needs to be said anyway: Apptivity™ sucks. It’s a resounding symbol of all that’s wrong in how we’re bringing up American children and living our broader lives — what we make, build, consume.

We could do so, so much better if just we cared. Or woke up.

Maybe there’s an App for that?

— Lindsay Curren™, Transition Voice

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  1. says

    Brilliant Post. I am all for modern communications and beneficial technology.
    Part of the success of the modern environmental movement is because of the
    Internet and groups that benefit from technology and social media like
    350.org, the Transition movement around the world, advocates like
    Waterkeeper Alliance and cutting edge media such as EcoWatch. But as your article so strongly and eloquently points out – there is a downside to this obsession we have with tech. It seems like Apptivity is really just a lazy way to keep the baby occupied without having to engage with the child. It’s the easy way out. What’s next – raving about a babies first text – instead of the first actual spoken word? It would be better to take a child out to a park or a farm or show them how to plant herbs in your kitchen garden than have them sit in front of a pile of plastic, that as you point out, is headed for the garbage heap.

  2. margaret says

    There was some good critical thinking behind this article. I agree, babies and toddlers need first to interact with and learn from their natural environment, family and pets, then later maybe move into such things as computers and smartphones. The reality is that we need to teach kids computer literacy, but I see no advantage to starting at age 6 months.

    We are performing an experiment on our kids without having any knowledge or evidence about the outcome.

  3. Brenda says

    Perhaps ‘Crapptivity’ would be a more appropriate name.
    I loathe this kind of crap plastic, noisy, flashy, battery gobbling, resource consuming, overpriced junk with a passion. My poor 4 year old ‘only’ received a jig saw puzzle, books, polo top, accordian, mary poppins DVD and trampoline for Christmas. And the poor kid got a coloring book and lego too. Heaven forbid that tomorrow he might receive more of these ‘boring’ type toys from extended family. Additional things I find repulsive in the modern day toy frenzy are 1) the guilt parents are pressured to feel for not supplying the latest gizmo 2) the drones we are creating. Brain dead or ADHD type brains. These kids can type faster than me but can’t spell, speak correctly, or sit still without fidgeting 3) LANDFILL – financially cheap plastic landfill. en masse. Said my piece. Merry Cristmas to all.

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