By Eleanor Levy
It began with beardy men and excited youths sharing films of themselves unwrapping the latest iPhone or laptop. Now, online unboxing videos are an established major player in the world of toys and tech for children too.
If you work with kids, or are a parent yourself, you will probably already know what I’m talking about. YouTube stars such as DisneyCollector and Evan & Jillian have become famous for thrilling hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) of viewers as they open the packaging on various toys, sharing the ‘unboxing experience’ with us in the kind of hushed, reverential tones of David Attenborough talking us through the mating rituals of the ring-tailed lemur.
Children lap up DisneyCollector
What adults will find most surprising, other than the sheer range of tat that is deemed worthy of capturing on video as it is carefully revealed, is how long it takes these online stars to get the toy out of the box.
I have yet to come across a child who would take 7minutes, 49 seconds to prise anything out of its packaging, let alone a Spongebob Squarepants Orbeez kit (they ‘magically grow in water’, you know).
My kids would have ripped open the box in around 15 seconds - and then spilled the magic beads over the floor for me to walk on for the next six months in another 20.
But DisneyCollector manages to make the whole process seem longer than the careers of most Premiership football managers.
And yet, children lap up these videos. DisneyCollector’s YouTube channel has apparently been viewed over 3 billion times, so she is obviously doing something right.
Many of the people posting unboxing videos will make a handsome living out of doing so by the sheer number of views they get. Some may have been paid by toy manufacturers to feature their product.
The unboxing phenomenon is one example of the over commercialisation of childhood, but the success of the videos also questions the assertion that the internet has reduced little human beings’ capacity to concentrate on anything for more than 60 seconds at a time.
Small solar systems in a far off galaxy have been born and died in the time it takes ellieV toys to unbox LEGO Disney Princess Sleeping Beauty's Royal Bedroom kit. And yet, 384,488 people had sat through the unveiling of each pink plastic piece for 14 minutes, 33 seconds before me.
The cult of 'stuff'
Unboxing videos aimed at children are not a new phenomenon, but as Christmas approaches, parents and carers will understand their power.
Yes, they celebrate the cult of ‘stuff’. But there is something undeniably mesmerising about them – and we all take pleasure in watching other people unwrapping presents.
I once cut out an advert in a comic for Barbie and took it to bed with me for weeks, showing it incessantly to my mum in an attempt to get her to buy me the doll for Christmas.
So I realise that this kind of thing is just a modern manifestation of the pester power parents have had to put up with since the first cave person fashioned a cute mammoth out of fur to comfort their crying baby, and then found that every other cave child in the camp wanted one.
As parents, we just have to do what my mum did – nod appreciatively, feign interest and come Christmas Day, get them a torch and an easy peel satsuma instead.