Alexa: Plug Your Ears

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My niece, nine-years-old and pretty as the day is long, emerged from my old bedroom at Mom and Dad’s farmhouse not long ago.
“Alexa, what time is it?” she asked. Not a sound followed, except my mom shuffling through cattle registration papers downstairs. Marlee stretched and raised her voice. “Alexa, what time is it?” Again, no response. She tried another question. “Alexa, what’s the weather?”
My mother, extremely confused, stood at the bottom of the steps and asked, “Who are you talking to, Marlee?”
“Your Alexa, Grandma. Where is she?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t even know anyone named Alexa. If you need to know what time it is, there is a clock in the bathroom. It’s about twenty minutes behind. If you need to know the weather, there are four windows in that bedroom. Look outside.”
Marlee seemed quite confused, as the generational gap widened.
For those who might not be familiar with Marlee’s friend, Alexa, she is Amazon’s virtual assistant. She (it) can sit on a table or kitchen counter and pick up simple voice commands, such as turn on the lights, give a weather report, turn down the thermostat, play desired music or add something to the grocery list. She is constantly listening to your household commands. In my opinion, Alexa is much like the super creepy cousin at reunions who doesn’t talk but only observes.
Recent reports have come out revealing that Amazon is recording conversations with Alexa, on the basis of determining sound quality and interpretation. Anyone who understands modern marketing probably knows that Amazon is likely using these recorded conversations to understand buying trends to better market to certain lifestyles.
I can be in the same room with my husband and ask him what he’d like for dinner, and he may respond with, “Rain the next three days.” I can ask my toddler if she needs to go to the bathroom and she may respond with, “Don’t know Mom. Do you need go to bathroom?” I can tell my 10-month-old baby I love him, and he then bites my shoulder. I don’t need to invest in a nosey robot to misunderstand me in the unbelievable way my family can.
I think if we did have an Alexa, and she began listening to our family conversations, she’d probably need a vacation.
Typical day:
Cody: “Don’t forget. The Brazilians are in the high plains next week, so I fly out Sunday night to Bozeman. East to North Dakota. Canada for a day. I’ll fly out of Sioux Falls on Saturday morning. 701 and 3601 may cycle into heat so take the kids out and check them before you guys go to bed if you can. Feed comes Wednesday. Those papers need to be signed by Tuesday, but you can do an electronic signature and just email them.”
Me: “Got it. I need to check my email. I haven’t in days. Do you need dry cleaning done before then? I thought 3601 was bred? Will you be home for supper Saturday? We still need to talk about if I’m flying with the kids or driving to Kansas for the sale. I can do it….If they sleep for twelve hours of daylight. When will you take the cattle?”
Cody: “Not sure yet. Still a way off. About dinner: I’m flying Southwest, so yes, probably.”
Or this:
Caroline: “Mom what’s check heat. Cows hot?”
Me: “No, honey. Cows are in heat when they give piggyback rides. It means they need to be bred.”
Caroline: “Old bread, Mom? Green bread? Like our bread?”
Me: “No, bred means they’re going to have a baby.”
Caroline: “Brother or sister?”
Me: “You mean bull or heifer…….We’re getting into the weeds. You’re only two.”
Caroline: “Weeds itch. Yuck. I don’t like weeds. I am two. Good job, Mom.”
I think sweet, simple Alexa would probably ask to have her batteries removed in order to be put out of her misery.
We live in such a strange time when people would actually buy something like this to make their life easier. As if taking 37 seconds to turn on the stereo (do those still exist? They do in Economy) and adding toilet paper to the grocery list hanging on the refrigerator was too much work. And perhaps I’m old school. I have, in fact, been wearing mom jeans since I was fifteen.
Regarding privacy and technology: You all know how I feel about Alexa listening to your dinner table chats – don’t even get me started on Apple watches and DNA heritage tests.
I guess if I wanted strangers to know the dirty details of my family, where I am every week, or what goes on within the confines of our family home….I’d write a weekly newspaper column.