Friday, February 2, 2007

Proprietary Technology: The New Barbie Doll

I had several Barbie dolls as a child. I fondly remember receiving Malibu Barbie, a "remote control" Barbie car, and a Barbie pool as gifts. There was the shaving Ken doll too – a heat activated color changing plastic coating allowed his beard to appear or disappear depending on the temperature of the water used on his foam razor. However, no matter how many clothes she had, my Barbie's wardrobe seemed too limited. The cost of a nice Barbie outfit was nearly as much as a new doll. And every doll came with a new outfit. Essentially, it seemed, the doll was free.

You could try to sort of make other doll clothes fit your Barbie but they never worked. It was also insane to try an sew Barbie clothes yourself. The fabric would fray itself into oblivion. So you were forced into paying ridiculous prices for outfits to make playing with your Barbie fun.

This was my first lesson in proprietary technology—the concept that technology and components aren’t necessarily compatible across the board, forcing consumers to spend more money for brand new, specially designed components. While tiny Barbie outfits and molded plastic dolls could hardly be considered technology, the consumer appeal of accessorizing the latest gadget or gizmo is equivalent to expanding the wardrobe of a Barbie.

My 15 year-old daughter received a new cell phone for Christmas. We have various reasons for allowing her to carry a phone. She began with a prepaid phone — no great loss if it went missing. Then we stepped her up to an extension of our own phone plan. Since she had been so responsible with that phone and since her 6 month old MP3 player was malfunctioning, we decided to get her a new phone. We were renewing our contract anyway and got it for a very nice price. The new phone functions as a phone and MP3 player. It’s sleek and beautiful.

Lucky me, I got her old phone. It was actually better than mine. Until the kids are grown up and moved away, I’m going to be getting their technology hand-me-downs.

This new phone came with little earbuds that she didn’t like. We figured she’d use the really nice headphones she bought with her own money a few weeks beforehand. However, the funny little flat plug on the earbuds looked strangely alien to us. We soon discovered that the headphone jack will only fit headphones that are Bluetooth compatible. It was like we had mistakenly bought her a transvestite Ken to go with an existing Barbie wardrobe. There's no way Ken would fit into Barbie's size 2s.

The fantastic phone now only really acts as a secondary MP3 player to her. Instead, she uses her computer to play music, tethered to it with her beloved headphones. At least the phone is sleek and beautiful. It is so beautiful that she has to be extra cautious and keep it safely stashed just in case someone’s admiration of her phone extends into criminal aspirations.

Nobody said it was easy to have the latest thing. It’s just that nobody ever said it was this hard.

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