The Furby materialised on American shelves in 1998, after a brief warp-trip from some ethereal hell-domain. It drove parents insane. Their children wanted one, insanely badly. They sold out, insanely quickly. Now, the Furby is back, and it is insanity incarnate.
General Omar N Bradley commanded US ground forces in Germany during World War II, and hewitnessed some of mankind's most debased savagery. Bradley once said: "If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner."
Sure, he was probably talking about the inexorable progress of mechanised warfare. But if he could see the 2012 rebirth of the Furby, he would have surely said, with a gasp followed by cardiac arrest, "That's what I'm talking about!"
The new Furby is grotesque. It is a terror. It is a mile marker on the road to tech dystopia. Kids will love it.
What Is It?
A neon animatronic gremlin toy designed to be handled regularly by children. If you're familiar with the Furby of 1990s infamy, it's pretty much the same deal — only everything has been thrown through the Large Hadron Collider, accelerated to an unconscionable degree of loud, bright, and wiggly. It has LED eyes. A toy for kids has eyes filled with liquid crystal diodes and an unfathomable number of transistors.
Who Is It For?
Children. Lonely children. Neglected children. The children of criminals. Evil babies. The senile. CIA black site rendition prisoners. Skeletons. Hated cats. Madmen. Other robots. The hounds of hell.
Why It Matters
The Furby, thoroughly nightmarish as it is, is where it's all headed for little kids. There's not much reason to doubt that at some point, not so far away, robots will be ubiquitous toys for tots. Just as the tablet erodes the appeal of reading paper, children follow the allure of the electron. The sound effect-enabled He-Man sword from my boyhood made a stick look like a boring ol' dumb stick. And dancing, blinking, screeching hell-gadgets like the Furby make a lifeless Pound Puppy seem like pathetically poor stimulation.
Kids don't know much, but they do know when their central nervous systems get the playtime equivalent of a kegstand. The Furby is like an electronic frat party stuffed into a faux-fur chassis. The mushy minds of an entire generation will love this thing, and everything like it, until we're all just playing with holograms and battling our brothers and sisters with lethal lasers in front of grandma.
In other words, Furby 2040 is inevitable, and Furby 2012 is a significant step in this dynasty's evolution.
I'm not a kid now, but I was in 1998, and even then I never found the Furby's appearance anything less than horrible and vaguely menacing. Its hair is an unkempt, fluorescent tangle of wispy purple and pink — what you'd find clogging an cyborg prostitute's shower drain. The ears and tail are sort of cute, and the eyes, albiet terrifying in their constant swirling and darting, are impressive for LED toy eyes.
You don't really "use" the Furby so much as you willingly subject yourself to it. The Furby makes almost constant noise in its own native language, Furbish. Chortles, whistles, grunts, whines, moans, screeches, incoherent speaking in tongues. Occasionally it'll drop in a charming English fragment like "Me hungry!" or "I funny," but these are the exception. Furby claims it will learn more English the more you speak to it, but over two weeks of attentive Furby-sitting, this simply didn't happen.
The Furby's erratic mania culminates in its schizophrenic personality changes. It shouts, "I'M CHANGING," squeezes its eyes shut, and then reopens them. Now it's changed. During our testing, it remained in some sort of demonic phase, with slit eyes, a raspy voice, and lots of cackles. Once its eyes changed into cows, and then cherries, and it appeared intoxicated. Bath salt Furby lasted for a while longer, before suddenly, inexplicably reverting to docile.
It seems like constant abuse and neglect takes a tool. To muffle its incessant shrieking — there is no volume knob or on/off switch — it was locked up in a sealed container marked "Human Organs." By the end of the testing, Furby seemed permanently deranged. No amount of cuddling, petting, feeding, or murmuring of "I love you, Furby," made any changes. Its eyes were vacant, even for LEDs — a great vacuum in the hole where its soul should have been. It was behaving like a little brat. Now, it is once again locked in the Organs bag, shoved under a desk.
It's funny and charming when it first comes to life. Once every month or so, for a few minutes at a time, it could provide some amusement. Leaving it on someone's desk or doorstep could make a fine prank, because then they'd have to deal with it — suckers.
It also provides a decent simulation of the scarring effects longterm psychological and physical abuse can have on the psyche. At a medical school, it could teach valuable lessons. But it has no place at a child's sleepover.
If you're not five years old and dumb, exposure to the Furby is about as bad as smallpox spores. The gimmick quickly wears, and it's then a constant, gnawing source of aggravation. It's like a device designed specifically to annoy. In that sense, it's sort of brilliant, in the same way a crossbow is a brilliant way to shoot an arrow through someone's neck.
Furby actually makes you want to hurt it somehow — if only it had feelings — so that you can punish it for existing. You begin to feel like a wrathful deity. Or at least a lousy parent. The Furby was adopted and orphaned by a series of otherwise good-hearted people over the testing period. Yet, unlike a real child, the Furby never grows up. It just bothers you more, makes you feel worse, and you want to destroy it, but you just can't bring yourself to do it because you can't find a hammer at the office and smashing a Furby at work is kinda weird and might make people talk.
One friend was thrilled to hear the new Furby had arrived — she wanted but never got one as a kid in 1998 — so she volunteered for five days of robot-sitting and reported back the following:
- Day 1: Furby wakes up and is playful and nice but won't shut up. People at work instantly hate me so I put him in a drawer. Furby burped and sang in my purse on the train and generally embarrassed me as much as I imagine a real baby would.
- Day 2: Furby sleeps through the night and all day the next day. I wake him up at 10 to feed him and he is PISSED. His eyes turn into flames whenever I touch him. So, as punishment, I feed him until his eyes go all swirly and he "barfs" repeatedly. I make him go to sleep.
- Day 3: Furby undergoes a "change" after I pull his tail rapidly about 40 times. His eyes turn into cows and he says "I CHANNNGGINNNNGGGGG" followed by wild vibrations and seizure-inducing eye flashes. When that's done Furby has a new voice. He says, "What's up dude". At this point I hate Furby, and I throw him on the floor. He eventually sings himself to sleep.
- Day 4: I ignore Furby all day.
- Day 5: I put Furby in a cooler and bring him back. Fuck Furby. I hate him. The instructions that we got warned that there is no on/off switch and we should have read that and never turned it on.
Should You Buy This
No. Your children will love this more than any toy they've ever owned. But they'd also love smoking sugar cubes out of a crack pipe. Spend the $US80 on tickets to a baseball game, or a puzzle, or college tuition. Or just give them the cash and see what happens.
New Furby (2012)
• Eyes: Two, LED • Intelligence: Low • Language: Furbish, rudimentary English • Batteries: 2 AA • Price: $US80, available September 16 • Giz Rank: 1.0 stars, only because the GizRank scale doesn't go as low as zero or "AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH."