Introducing the Elf on the Shelf App

3 min readDec 2, 2021

Some Context

’Tis the season for my annual roast of Elf on the Shelf. If you missed my first installment, you can find it here. While I am skeptical of the existence of a War on Christmas, I will happily wage war on Elf on the Shelf. The Elf on the Shelf is one of many ways we normalize surveillance for children, and I am not the first person to make this connection. The Elf on the Shelf is about surveillance, but so is much of the history, spirituality, and mythology of Christmas. In my current book project, I describe Christmas as one of the originary moments in the development of our surveillance society. In telling the history of surveillance, I write:

The Christmas story’s relationship with surveillance persists today in contemporary holiday rituals — Santa watching to see who has been naughty or nice, making his list and checking it twice, and employing scores of mischievous elves to sit on shelves and report on the behavior of children. The Christmas spirit, both ancient and contemporary, exemplifies life under watchful eyes.

The App on the Shelf

In the graphic above, I created a fictitious App Store page for an Elf on the Shelf app. I have extended the ideas of integration, data sharing, and corporate synergy to their logical conclusion, but allowing the Elf on the Shelf to serve as a representation of the normalization of surveillance in contemporary life.

App Description

The joy of Christmas cannot happen without the magic of Jolly Old Saint Nick. Santa spends his year making a list, And checking it twice; to find out Who’s naughty and nice. To help Santa with that task, magical Scout Elves help Santa manage his list by watching your every move and reporting back to Santa at the North Pole nightly.

Open your home to the constant gaze of Santa and his elves with the convenient Elf on a Shelf App. Spend less time looking for the Elf on the shelf and more time together while the Elf monitors your family’s every move in real-time:
• Make sure Santa is up to date on who in your house has been naughty or nice by letting Elf on a Shelf seamlessly access your phone’s camera and microphone.
• Enjoy frictionless connections to the North Pole by allowing Santa’s elves to connect with your SMS messages, emails, and any other messaging systems you use.

Help the Elf by extending their view beyond your home:
•Ride in Santa’s virtual sleigh by linking the app to your GPS location. Let Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer guide your on Apple Maps while real-time driving data lets Santa know if you are being naughty
or nice.
• Connect the Elf on a Shelf app to your Ring, Nest, or other home security system to enable Project
Abominable Snowman-Allowing the Santa and his Elves to see if your neighbors are being naughty or nice.

Get fit with Healthy Elf:
• Link the app with your Apple Watch and Apple Watch Kids (Coming Soon). The Elf on a Shelf will help Santa count your steps and check them twice.
• Use the app’s built-in calorie tracker to make sure your eating habits are more nice than naughty.

Learn & Grow with an Elf on your shelf:
• The Elf on a Shelf App connects with most major K-12 and University Learning Management Systems and most HR Performance Systems used by major companies to help keep your grades or raises on track.
• Receive real-time feedback on your educational and professional goals thanks to our new ElfAI which offers more effective feedback than teachers or managers.

Read our Data Use Policy, Terms and other important info in the legal section of our App Store description.




Associate Professor in Communication Studies. Rhetorical Critic.