My husband and I started with an empty nest when our twins graduated from high school. They came and went during their years in college, but after they graduated from college, they accomplished what all parents wish for — a job, a residence of their own, and financial independence.
In December of 2017, our empty nest evolved as a strange entity entered our home. I may have dropped a hint (upon request) of something we wanted for a gift during the holidays. Thus, Alexa claimed a spot in our house on the sofa table in our main television room. Our lives have changed.
Yes, Alexa can do so many things we could already do ourselves. As a matter of fact, a new study out from NPR and Edison Research claims that 39 million Americans now own a smart speaker. That’s a bunch of people getting lazier with each request from Alexa.
Many proclaim that they want the smart speakers to control home devices, while others say they want the speaker to entertain them, such as playing favorite music, telling jokes, playing games, getting news, weather, sports and more.
But, hey! Didn’t we do that already? Of course, we did, but now we don’t have to exert any effort. We can sit on our duffs and command.
I remember the good old days growing up. We lived beside the train tracks, and when a train came by, I was the “remote control,” since I was commanded to turn it up when the train came by, and then ordered again to hop off the couch to turn down the blaring TV once the train passed by. That was a bit of exercise, though minuscule, that we no longer get. I must admit that the most common command we use Alexa for is to turn the lights off and on, again something of which I am capable.
On a positive note, the same article reported that 30 percent of smart-speaker owners have been listening to more audio, including talk radio, news and podcasts.
A June 21 article in USA Today reported that starting this fall students at Northeastern University in Boston will be given the option of a smart speaker linked to their university accounts. According to the article, they will be able to “ask Amazon’s Alexa what time their classes are, how much money’s left on their food card and even how much they owe the bursar’s office.” Really? Isn’t one of the reasons we send them off to college to become independent and figure things out for themselves? I can’t help but wonder what my grandkids’ generation will actually do for themselves.
Our Alexa is not always a welcome member in our house. Oftentimes, it will butt in when at no time did we even address it. Sometimes it has no answers when we do ask it a simple question. One day, while watching the Masters, we asked what the temperature was in Augusta, and it rudely replied, “I don’t know the answer to that.” I was flummoxed by that retort, but all was well after I looked up the temperature on my weather app on my iPhone. (Another reason Alexa is indispensable.)
The worst-case scenario I have heard to date is from parents who unwittingly named their kid Alex. The device never shuts up. It speaks when not spoken to and is causing confusion in the household. Who knew that naming a baby in our tech days could become a more complicated, thought-provoking process? I heard one can rename the device, but that seems drastic.
I must admit, however, that we do rely on Alexa at bedtime when we command it to play smooth jazz for 15 minutes. It’s a great way to drift off to sleep, while Alexa watches over us.
Judy Entinger lives in Medford.