Thursday, May 30, 2019

Alexa and Me

            OK – let’s get this out of the way right now: One reason I enjoy my new Amazon Echo is that I get to tell Alexa what to do, and she pretty much always obliges. I’ve been speaking with Alexa for over a week, and she has yet to say, “Why do you want that?” or “Anything you say – you’re the boss.” On the other hand, she has rarely come up with a better idea than what I had in mind, something Kim does quite often. And Alexa never gives me “the look.” At least, not yet.

            Alexa and her partner in Artificial Intelligence, Siri, have recently been criticized by UNESCO for presenting women, through the voice, as totally obedient. I do understand the criticism, but the critics have not met Gertrude. That is the name we gave the voice embodied in my car’s GPS system (before it died). Gertrude may take orders, though I am not techie enough to figure out how to give those orders verbally, but she certainly gives orders repeatedly, and I do my best to follow them. In fact, if I were still teaching English I would tell my students that if they wanted to know what the Imperative Voice is all about, listen to a car’s GPS. At least Gertrude has the good manners not to say, “Turn around where possible, you idiot,” or “Better let someone drive who is paying attention.” It may be the case that my appreciation of Alexa is tied to my escape from Gertrude’s tyranny.

            And what have been asking Alexa to do? Play music. I did ask her to tell me a couple jokes, but they were too lame to repeat. I asked her, “What’s 8 times 7?” and she got it right.
The rest has been music.

Pause here: If you got to request music from a very deep library, what would you request first? And then?

            I started with the Beatles – no big surprise there, I suppose. I moved on to Motown, then Simon and Garfunkel. Next was the music of Tex Ritter – a favorite of Kim’s dad with deep sentimental value. I requested “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” and Kim and I danced, me tearfully, to a wonderful version not sung by Kermit. The Andrews Sisters were good for a while, The Mamas and the Papas good for even longer. My request for “Logger Lover” by the Clancy Brothers, a northern Michigan classic, came up empty – check it out if you can. Joe Williams with Count Basie led to an appeal to pay a monthly fee for an even bigger music library. The surprise hit was “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from the politically incorrect Song of the South, rendered as a lovely lullaby. Then Alexa found us a whole station of “lullabies and bedtime music. We will be revisiting that music frequently.

            Amazon recently sent me a list of suggestions for other things Alexa can do for us. Not included on the list: “Alexa, shovel the driveway!” or “Alexa, do the laundry – dark load.” Amazon seems to be pushing Alexa’s role in making a grocery list, but given Amazon’s ownership of Whole Foods, we have decided to stay with the old technology – pen and paper. Amazon also seems to be encouraging me to turn our house into a “smart home,” but I am again reluctant, as that would bring under my care and supervision a lot more technology that I don’t know how to operate. It took me a week, for example, to set up my Amazon Echo because I also needed to buy a new router, and we gave up installing a camera on our doorbell because, again, maybe, a router issue. So to date we are staying with the old technology: fist on wood. Of course, I could get Best Buy’s Geek Squad to help, but so far, after three weeks, that have not been able to fix my f-ing television . . ..

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