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Tom Purcell

Tom Purcell: Alexa causing chaos at my parents' house

| Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, 7:03 p.m.
Amazon echo
Amazon echo

Is technology innovation doing us more harm than good? My family offers proof that it is.

My parents recently got Amazon’s supposedly “intelligent” personal assistant, Alexa.

Ask Alexa to play a song and she will (through her speaker).

Ask her to turn the lights on or off, and, if they’re plugged into a “smart” device, she’ll do that, too.

Ask her about the weather, news, traffic or sports and she’ll search the internet for answers.

But Alexa is causing turmoil at my parents’ house.

“Amanda,” said my father the other day, “can you turn down the music?”

“Her name is Alexa,” said my mother, oddly protective of her new virtual friend. “If you don’t call her ‘Alexa,’ she won’t respond.”

“AlexIS,” said my father, “stop playing music so loudly!”

“Alexa!” said my mother.

“That’s what I said!” shouted my father.

“Sorry,” said Alexa. “I don’t know what you’re referring to.”

“I said turn down the damn music!” said my father.

“Don’t talk to her like that!” said my mother, pointing her finger at him.

“For God’s sake, Betty,” said my father, storming off in search of his print newspaper, “AlexIS ignores me worse than you do!”

My parents also recently installed a home video-surveillance system that my sisters and I monitor on our smartphones.

The other morning, the system notified us that someone was on my parents’ front porch. Opening the app, I saw a man, about 40, pounding on the door.

He wore a flannel shirt, dirty pants and scuffed boots. He had bags under his eyes and was fidgety.

“Let me in!” he said in a raspy, demonic whisper. “Let … me … in!”

Alarmed, I activated the intercom.

“May I help you?” I said forcefully through the system’s outdoor speaker. He muttered something, then turned away.

“What do you want?” I shouted.

He ran down the steps.

I called my parents’ house. Nobody answered. I called my oldest sister. She answered immediately.

“A drug addict is trying to get inside Mom and Dad’s house!” she shouted.

“I’m calling the cops!” I said, then did as I jumped into my truck and floored it.

Arriving a few minutes later, I discovered that the “drug addict” was actually a plumber my father had hired.

The plumber wanted to get inside the house because he was cold. He ran down the steps because my father had just opened the garage door to let him in.

After apologizing to the police for all of the hullabaloo — they were surprisingly polite to the latest idiot to overreact to his video-surveillance powers — I slunk back to my truck and got the heck out of there.

In this era of nasty tweets and Facebook insults, reports Psychology Today, technology is making us ruder. But it’s not just that.

Social media, according to various studies, is making us more isolated, more depressed and less connected with our fellow human beings. But it’s not just that.

Facebook, Google and Alexa know way more about us than most people are aware. But it’s not just that, either.

It’s that, despite technology’s many benefits, we now know way too much about way too many things. As my family shows, our massive daily information flow is causing us more grief than benefit.

Don’t believe me? Ask Alexa.

And don’t call her “AlexIS!”

Freelance writer Tom Purcell of Library is author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood.” Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com.

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