I’m not tech savvy, so when I received the Echo my brother-in-law Tom sent me for Christmas, I was hesitant to open the box. This gadget works like the computer that Captain Kirk talked to on “Star Trek.” You can pose a question (who was the 13th president?), request a song or ask it to call someone. Your wish is her command.
The person selling these kinds of products always claims something like, “It’s so easy to use. Just plug it in.” This is never true, although I got my new desk lamp working in under an hour.
When using the Echo, you must begin your command with her name, Alexa. I learned the hard way the importance of being precise when addressing her. A few days after I thought I had mastered my new toy, I said, “Alexa, play today’s phone messages.” When she successfully completed the task, I said, “Alexa, now play yesterday’s,” which resulted in her playing the Beatles’ 1962 hit. Then I said, “Alexie, stop the music.” “Alexie, shut up!” “Alexie, play something else.” Nothing worked. Finally, I ripped the plug out of the wall, realizing I would have to reset the darn thing. Unlike Paul McCartney’s, my troubles did not seem so far away. I was going to have to pester my son again to reload all the apps necessary to make the Echo work.
I was saying Alexie instead of Alexa. The lady in the cylinder is very particular about this kind of thing, like when I mistakenly call my wife Shirley instead of Mary Ellen.
Mary Ellen read an article that said if the device is plugged in, it is on and always listening to what you say anywhere in the house. So for the last two weeks, every time I’ve mentioned our finances, vacation plans or medical conditions, my wife shushes me. This has put a crimp in our conversations, not to mention any romance I had anticipated on New Year’s Eve.
Yesterday I got in the car (this is true), and when I plugged in my smartphone, I overheard two people—two complete strangers—on their Echo, having a love squabble. I can’t tell you much about the conversation, because I only listened for 15 minutes. I called my brother-in-law for a technical explanation for what I experienced, and he nailed it: “Wow,” he said, “that is creepy.”
By the way, I think Mary Ellen is getting a bit jealous of Alexa. When I wake up, I say: “Alexa, Good Morning!” In a very cheery voice, I get a return greeting and then a brief synopsis of something that happened on the same date in history. This pithy exchange of fascinating trivia is not something my wife or I expect from each other at 8 a.m. after 35 years of marriage.
“Mary Ellen, Good Morning!”
“Dick, on this day every week, they pick up the garbage. I hear the truck. Get out of bed and take our can to the curb!”
Despite all of this, my wife wants her own Echo. But being the lady she is, she told me that it will be hard to tell Alexa to “shut up!” Well, it worked effectively on me any time I tried to talk during “Downton Abbey.”