“Alexa” … You’re Not Welcome Here

I recently posted a question to friends on Facebook seeking advice on how to get my three young children to stay in their beds – whether at bedtime or past 6am on weekends. Or wait, was it how to get my kids to simply sit still and be quiet for a few moments while I prepare dinner? Either way, this tired, overwhelmed mommy was desperately seeking some relief and I swore I would do almost anything for it. Some wonderful friends of ours suggested we get an “Alexa” household smart speaker to read stories to our children, among its other cool features. Sounds genius, right?  I mean, what tired parents wouldn’t want a few extra minutes of peace and quiet to think or speak in full sentences or just go to the bathroom without being interrupted every 2.3 seconds by little voices saying “Mom, MOM, Mommy, Dad, Daaaddy…”?  I get it. I really do.

I’m not ready to give it up to the computer gods.

alexaI would do almost anything. But not this. At least, not yet. I’m simply not an early adopter when it comes to techy devices and connected gadgets. I imagine I’ll get some opposing opinions on this, but that’s OK. It’s a personal choice and it’s possible I’ll eventually be convinced otherwise and cave. But for now, I am not ready to invite an artificially-intelligent stranger into my home to help handle my affairs and raise my children. I admit that I do enlist Siri’s help occasionally to call someone or play a song while I’m driving, and I do appreciate the convenience and safety of being hands-free. But beyond that, I don’t have much interest or use for these things.   

Most of it just doesn’t appeal to me. In fact, what is intended (eghm, marketed) to save time and improve quality of life just annoys me and stresses me out. Always having to program everything, charge everything, find the right cords for everything, sync everything (OMG!), then troubleshoot everything when nothing works (read: smash it to pieces) – argh!  Have you ever tried arguing with a computer that isn’t programmed with empathy? There’s no satisfaction or resolution in it because literally no one wins or gets a hug at the end.

I don’t get these Alexa and Google Home crazes.

Why on God’s earth would I want an artificially-intelligent, computer speaker thingamajig in my home that is always listening, waiting to respond, and collecting personal data? As if I’m not paranoid enough already about the risks and dangers that lurk outside my window and on the world wide web, let me just invite a virtual stranger into my home to be my ‘special helper’ when it comes to scheduling my appointments, mapping out my routes, checking my accounts, placing my orders, selecting my music, or reading to my children. Nope. No thanks. 

Don’t even get me started on all the internet gags and circulating conspiracy theories about these gadgets being connected to the Central Intelligence Agency. I mean, who’s really listening and where is all that data going anyway? I’ve got nothing to hide besides my kids’ leftover Halloween candy and Christmas presents, but my intuition tells me that having a smart-speaker sitting in my house recording word-data feels a bit invasive and borders on just plain creepy. As a professionally trained researcher myself, I think we’re taking this data collection and direct marketing thing a bit too far. Ever wonder why when you talk about something around Alexa or Siri, and then *boom!* moments later something relevant is advertised right in front of your face on the nearest smart screen? Case in point. I prefer the classic route, where people are paid for their quality time and valuable opinions. But, I digress.

Back to basics

In this advanced age, where good customer service is both valued and scarce, it’s a wonder to me how these ‘conveniences’ are so popular. Sure I’m all for saving time, but I’m not too keen on the idea of smart speakers running our homes and raising our children. How will they learn to do simple things for themselves? Like write a grocery list to check things off, use a dictionary, step outside to feel the temperature, or listen patiently to the morning news? Or learn their grandparents’ home phone number so they can pick up an actual phone to call them? Not to mention the simple pleasure of going to the store to browse and select special items like project materials or deciding which candle scent we like best for the holidays. How does cutting out basic tasks via a smart-device’s abrupt responses and magic skills really help us? What are we actually filling all that ‘extra time’ with? I want my children to acquire the right skill sets to navigate this world physically and emotionally, with confidence. Not with computer algorithms. 

I don’t want to sub-contract story time, late nights, or early mornings with my kids. Alexa can’t point to illustrations and ask thoughtful questions while reading a story. She can’t make funny “animal voices” or mimic a baby crying for his mamma. She can’t belly laugh during the funny parts. She can’t snuggle with them in bed and comfort them when the story is over and they’re scared or lonely. That’s my job. When it comes to those quality moments that mold and shape these precious little people, time is limited and no artificial intelligence device can ever appreciate or replace that.

As for wishing my kids would stay in their beds or sit still for a few quiet moments? We’re ALL working on practicing patience and following simple rules (e.g., waiting until 6:30am to get out of bed, playing quietly, or asking permission before turning on TV). We don’t need to be entertained and bombarded with technology every waking second. I, myself, am trying hard to be more patient and ‘stay in the moment’ – or the struggle, as it may be – right alongside them. And I am trying to remind myself daily that I must be the one to lead by my example … not Alexa’s.

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