Column | Life with Siri, Alexa & Google: Do you ever wonder if technology helps us — or rules us? – RiverheadLOCAL

Now more than ever, local news matters.

Now more than ever, local news matters.

A couple of weeks ago, I awoke with a start when I heard two male voices conversing.  My first groggy thoughts were the voices belonged to  George and Frank, my deceased husbands.  I wondered if they returned to compare notes. Yikes! I thought, that could be a good or bad thing. 
Wide awake now and panic-stricken, I crept down the stairs. Peeking over the railing, the living room was empty.  I turned to the left. The dining room was likewise empty. However, the voices droned on.  My heart lurched and began a  rhythmic two-step.  Wanting  to call for help, I realized that my phone was on the kitchen counter. 
I moved slowly toward the kitchen so as not to make any noise, but to my horror the voices grew louder.  With my heart pounding and my hands sweating, I  quickly snatched my cell phone from the counter. 
Looking at the screen I noted two men talking.  Giddy with relief, I realized  they were not George and Frank!  Puzzling, however, was that  the subject matter  was familiar.  Then —  bingo!  I had listened to this particular podcast the day before.  
Reassured that I was not going over the edge, I dismissed the incident as a software malfunction. However,  besides being scared stiff, this incident served as a wake-up call.    
Like many of you, I have a trio of personal smart assistants: Siri, Alexa,  and Dr. Google.  (Google has earned an honorary Medical Degree in my book.  She responds readily to medical questions.)
Many  of us are embroiled in a cautionary love affair with our personal assistants. Ms. Siri is with me all the time. She resides in my cell phone and is good at her job.  But like me, she does  screw up from time to time.  Siri is prone to day-dreaming and not paying attention, as I am. 
Ms. Alexa researches my streaming preferences with amazing accuracy. It seems that she knows my likes and dislikes better than humans closest to me. 
One of my friends  literally argues with his Google assistant daily.  It can be exhausting to overhear their conversation.  Perhaps one of them is hard of hearing.  
These personal  assistants can do most anything and are very smart — sometimes smarter than you or me.  However, like all of us, they can get confused and that’s where the fun begins — or not. 
 Once I asked Google about a movie, only to have Siri answer.  At this juncture Google said: “Sorry I don’t understand your question.”  Duh …  I called Google “Siri.” Clearly, these  assistants are particular about being addressed properly.
I have learned to be specific in my  commands. Some smart assistants cannot decipher slang. “Kill the lights” may be interpreted as goodness knows what! 
Recently we had a threesome! One of my friends and I  were discussing vacation plans.  Surprisingly, Google joined in.  She was highly informative and gave us pertinent information on Washington D.C.  Unfortunately for Google, we were discussing Washington state! Ha! Smarty pants! 
Can you imagine the  dynamic trio Google, Siri & Alexa lunching together?  Because they are so popular and smart, everyone wants to sit at their table. They are also well-versed in a myriad of functions such as:   
Finding recipes and giving audible step-by-step instructions.
Getting show times for movies and sports.
Ordering pizza.
Tracking  Amazon packages. 
Controlling  household devices.
Unlocking the doors. 
Paying bills online. 
Narrating  books. 
Google and Alexa are even  compatible with some Robot vacuums. 
And Alexa can give pregnancy advice. But wait. I mean, really, how would Alexa know?  
I learned with an  app from Amazon, Alexa can help ease an expectant mom’s anxiety by giving advice on what to expect. Geez! I  only had old-wives-tale horror stores to guide me.
Concerned? We should be.
For example, personal privacy — a hot topic for years. Online shopping sites retain our browsing and credit card history.
The Journal of the National Medical Association  reported the prevalence of obesity, especially in children. Makes sense. We can accomplish many things from our couches with a simple command.  
Seems like we humans are becoming dependent on personal assistant apps to do what we can do for ourselves, with effort.  Not only are we becoming a lazy society, but we are also losing our people skills.  While dining out, I am astonished when I observe couples  staring into their screens instead of each other’s eyes.
Don’t misunderstand me, I love technology.  I am able to see and converse with my grandkids, Luca and Nova, at will — although they live more than 3,000 miles away.  I enjoy listening to podcasts, taking online courses and belong to organizations that would have otherwise eluded  me. What would we have done  without technology while in the grips of the COVID epidemic? 
But there comes a time when too much is simply too much, don’t you think?  We  require quiet time to daydream, to imagine something wonderful or to simply… be.  When we are constantly connected, it interrupts our own creativity and our larger world becomes smaller— sometimes as small as the screen on your iPad or cell phone.  
My love affair with technology is an on and off thing. Technology is one of the greatest triumphs of science, but there are always two sides to every coin.  Technology can improve our lives or become a substitute for life. We should all choose wisely.

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The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.
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