Speaking of talking dolls, here’s a futuristic one from the 80’s. Julie was created by the same people who made Teddy Ruxpin. Instead of telling stories, she’s a doll that’s meant to have conversations with you.

But that’s not all. Not only does she have voice recognition (supposedly you can get her to recognize up to two voices), and a slot for a cartridge that expands her vocabulary, she also can “read”, can tell if it’s light or dark, and she can feel temperature. (I’ve rarely gotten her to feel temperature because it’s so moderate around here. Once or twice when I was little, I took her outside and I remember her saying something like, “Brr! It’s cold,” which is absolutely magical to a child.)

Also, she recognizes when she’s picked up, and will ask if you’re going somewhere. If you say no, she responds, “I like being held.” If you say yes, she’ll say, “Where are we going?”

Most awesome doll I’ve ever had. It’s unfortunate that she isn’t fully working. I think we bought her on sale years after she’d been out, and so I doubt she ever fully worked. Her eyes have always only been half open, but now they’re even more fully shut.

While researching talking dolls, how can one forget Teddy Ruxpin? This link has an interesting take on the talking teddy bear.

In the 1980s, rather than a need for skilled physical laborers, the emerging information marketplace was increasing the demand for skilled mental laborers. In this way, Teddy Ruxpin can be seen as a mode of production, training a future generation of workers, transforming the play room into a factory floor. “Factories are places in which new kinds of human beings are always being produced: first the hand-man, then the tool-man, then the machine-man, and finally the robot-man” (Flusser, 44-5)

The article states that Teddy Ruxpin was used by parents to keep their kids busy and to teach them. In the new digital age, all they had to do was listen to have their minds filled with stories. According to this article, children didn’t have to imagine the stories because they could read along with the book. It goes on to then state that kids didn’t have to even read along with the book, they could just sit and listen. (Though not to be nit picky or smart aleckey, but how is that different from listening to the radio? Did kids sit and have their minds filled when they only had the radio? Did they not imagine the story or insert themselves as part of it?)

I find this an interesting theory, but an incorrect one. Children use toys in ways never intended. I know with my Teddy Ruxpin, I put him through all sorts of adventures. He had outfits to go along with them, and I’d often dress him up before heading out the door with the poor thing snuggled in my arms.

I rarely listened to the stories but once in a while, meanwhile I looked through the books all the time. Every book had a map in the front with all the different locations marked out, and I memorized that map. Sometimes I even used it on my treasure hunts. Mostly, what I liked were the songs, and I learned that the tape was like a mirror, so after he finished one song, I could hear it again by just by flipping it. (Except in the case of the love songs, which was one of my favorite tapes and one of the few I listened to fully. See one of the songs here.)

Did the bear prepare me for the digital age? In a way, I would say yes. Did it make me some mindless drone ready for factory work? Not quite. Though this all reminds me of an Asimov story called “Someday.”