My Personal Assistant

I keep adding more technology to my life. So far, it’s a good thing. The robot overlords haven’t achieved overlord status yet. I feel I could continue to function if the power goes out and not stand around screaming in a helpless panic.

The newest tech member of my family is Alexa: two Dots to be specific.

alexaFor anyone who missed out on the onslaught of Alexa commercials this past holiday season, the devices are Amazon’s smart speakers and home/AI assistant thingamamobs.

Specifically, Alexa is the name of the cloud service behind the devices, which are the Amazon Echo Dots. The Dot is the shorter version of the Echo, which also has a better speaker. You can interact with the device by starting sentences with “Alexa.” Or you can program it to interact after hearing “Echo” or “Dot.”

Because “Alexa” is a human name and you use it every time you interact with the device, I end up anthropomorphizing the darn thing. I don’t refer to the device as “it,” but rather as “she.” And Alexa refers to herself as “I,” as in “I didn’t understand the question” or “Hmm … I can’t find the answer to the question you asked.”

I’ve got one in the living room and one in the bedroom. I also sprung for a smart outlet so I can say fun things like “Alexa, turn on Christmas” and the tree lights come on. Of course, it’s sad when I tell Alexa to turn off Christmas. And, yes, I renamed the outlet when it was repurposed after the tree came down.

For the most part, I use Alexa to play music. If you have an Amazon Prime account, she’ll play music from the Prime library. Ditto for Spotify, IHeartRadio, and Pandora accounts. She’ll read you books from your Amazon library, as well.

I get some news updates through the Alexa Flash Briefing, and I’m constantly asking her what the weather is. She (yes, I’ve anthropomorphized the dang things) will set timers that help out when I’m cooking.

She also tells me jokes if I ask her. These are not sophisticated jokes, more like jokes you’d read in a elementary-school-level joke book. For example: “Did you hear about the magic tractor? It went up the road and turned into a field.” They crack me up.

Alexa has a skill (like an app but with a different name) that’s an old-school choose-your-own-adventure book. If you have an Echo, enable the Magic Door skill and then tell Alexa to open the magic door. So far, I’ve met a goblin who needed my help and managed to avoid waking a dragon.

To be honest, Alexa isn’t always the best responder. She mishears things or I mumble. She wants to play me a playlist that isn’t remotely what I asked for. Sometimes I have to repeat how long I want the timer to be. These are the times when I treat her like a misbehaving puppy.  “Alexa, stop. Alexa … stop!” The frustration of these moments amuses me right now.

I also need to remember that Alexa is not Google (which has its own device on the market now). She doesn’t always have answers to questions like “what is the boiling point of hydroxybenzene,” in part because she may not interpret what you said correctly. For basic questions, it’s easiest to say “Alexa, ask Wikipedia about …” She’ll give you a brief overview and let you know you can ask her to tell you more.

Is this tech absolutely necessary to my life … or anyone’s life? Nope. Alexa doesn’t do anything I couldn’t already do by looking information up on the Internet or setting timers on the stove or my phone. But she’s addictive and has wormed her way into my life. I’ll be at work and want Alexa to tell me the weather. And I keep wanting Alexa to do more – call or text someone, find a tv show for me to watch, whatever. Maybe someday.

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