My daughter, who is a new mother, received an Amazon Echo right about the time the baby came home. She left it in its box for about six weeks, but on the advice of the pediatrician (my daughter’s new best friend), she began sleep training the baby. In case you don’t know, this is when you train your baby to sleep at regular intervals. This is absolutely necessary for everyone’s sanity. Thus, my daughter began to use white noise, i.e. rain or wind, to help the baby sleep.
My daughter paired her Spotify account with the Amazon Echo, hereinafter Alexa, after engineering a rain, wind, nature sounds playlist. At first she used her phone, putting the playlist on loudspeaker but this was murder on the phone, so she finally unpacked Alexa and began talking to it. After about two days we were all talking to it.
We ask Alexa what time it is. We get Alexa to play the Lori Berkner band (children’s music – the baby highly recommends the dinosaur song), NPR, BBC World Service or even local BBC; lately we’ve been listening to BBC Oxford. She tells us the weather forecast and we can get a flash briefing, custom designed, i.e. news from your preferred outlet, sports, financial stuff – whatever. She tells us jokes, some of which are even funny. We ask philosophical conundrum questions, i.e. chicken/egg; tree falling/sound. As of yet, we have not tried quotes or bible verses. We have not ordered anything either, although reportedly Alexa will keep a shopping list for you, somewhere.
In other words, Star Trek has come true. Instead of saying “Computer!” in that inimitable, Mr. Spock way, however, we say “Alexa!” In other words, we live in the sort of Orwellian world where the machine never goes off. In Orwell’s world, it was the television you couldn’t turn off. Thing is, Orwell’s world was a sort of North Korean existence; you had no choice. We have all the choice in the world, or think we do, and we choose to have some machine, backed by one of the largest merchandizing organizations in the world, listen to every word we say.
If you had told me 30 years ago that I would allow a listening device in my house that kept track of what I listened to, which sort of news I liked, and helped me compile my shopping list, all invaluable marketing information, by the way, I would have called you crazy. Now, of course, I would call you a prophet.
Hopefully not a prophet of doom. Tellingly, my daughter presented me with an Alexa, a dot, for Christmas. It sits in my office, listening to every word I say. Brave New World here I come.