In 2018, a series of competing startups literally made it rain electric scooters in San Francisco. Companies like Lime, Scoot, and Bird dropped loads of ride-sharing equipment on sidewalks and let chaos ensue. Bones were broken. Scooters burned and piled up in a postapocalyptic garbage heaps. Then finally, because capitalism always wins, scooters normalized to become an everyday part of life in urban cities across the globe.
Now, your child can bring some of that fun home with the Birdie toy scooter, a manual scooter by Bird, blazoned with the brand that makes far too few of us ask ourselves, “Wait, in 2019, companies are still putting a bird on it?” Presumably, it comes with instructions. Theoretically, it comes with a series-C term sheet, too.
Look, like a lot of parents, I’m a pretty disappointing one. I sold my son out to Big Brand before he was even born. McDonald’s nuggets, Goldfish crackers, and Kraft Mac & Cheese have claimed our dinner table, while Elmo, Thomas the Train, Cars (not to be mistaken with “cars”), and Hello Kitty have blitzkrieged the living room. My wife and I were picking out a bike helmet for my daughter recently and, rather than prioritizing some generic, Consumer Reports-verified option that would champion her own identity over glittery symbology, our careful logic plunged into a feverish rant, “WE HAVE TO GET THE HELLO KITTY ONE! SHE LOVES HELLO KITTY! IT HAS EARS AND WHISKERS AND A BOW!” Indoctrinate, child! You cannot love cats for cats’ sake. You must only love The Kitty.
Brands are unavoidable in 2019. They are the microplastics of the media, pervasive and omnipresent, so just drink the tap water already and try not to ask too many questions. But as far as brands go, Bird is just a terrible one. (I’m sorry, Bird employees!) I get it. Radio Flyer and Schwinn were the profiteering companies of their day, too. We cling to these pieces of Americana as if they are pure and special, as if that Coca-Cola polar bear isn’t taking insulin for his type 2 diabetes, simply because it’s old. Sorry, I mean “nostalgic.”
Likewise, the Disney princess, the Barbie doll, and the six-pack-laden Captain America Halloween costumes are all brands-as-people, imposing their own worrisome world views upon our children, too. But at least they were born from a seed of creative value that’s since grown into an uncontrollable cultural weed today. At least every child should dream of being powerful, beautiful, and strong—though maybe that shouldn’t just mean pink, skinny, or cut. With Bird, though, I simply cannot believe any 3-year-old should aspire to emulate an Ayn Rand-reading valley bro, or pledge loyalty to Big Bird Brand, with or without its carbon offsets. I don’t want my kid on a toy Bird scooter for the same reasons I wouldn’t buy my daughter an Uber-edition Power Wheel, or the Grubhub Play-Doh kitchen, or the Facebook anything. This is all a bunch of dumb app money that’s been robbed from our public infrastructure, acting like it has earned a place in our physical world and our cultural psyche. Congratulations, Silicon Valley platform companies on your billion-dollar evaluations! You get a spot on my home screen! But can stay out of my actual home.