Book Re­view: Par­ent­hood and tech meet in ‘To Siri With Love’

(Harper Collins) Mem­oir by Ju­dith New­man

Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Content - Re­view: Tracee M. Her­baugh

Tech­nol­ogy has of­ten got­ten a bum rap for ush­er­ing hu­mans into their own pri­vate mi­cro­cosms.

But writer Ju­dith New­man has a dif­fer­ent take on the mat­ter. Her teenage son, Gus, who is on the autism spec­trum dis­or­der, has de­vel­oped a friend­ship with Siri, the per­sonal as­sis­tant for the iPhone.

Chron­i­cling this friend­ship be­tween Siri and Gus, as well as rais­ing a fam­ily with a mem­ber who is “neu­roatyp­i­cal,” is the sub­ject of her new mem­oir.

“In a world where the com­monly held wis­dom is that tech­nol­ogy iso­lates us, it’s worth con­sid­er­ing an­other side of the story,” New­man writes in “To Siri With Love: A Mother, Her Autis­tic Son and the Kind­ness of Ma­chines.”

It’s not that Gus thinks Siri is hu­man, he un­der­stands she isn’t. But like many on the autism spec­trum, New­man writes, Gus feels “inan­i­mate ob­jects, while maybe not pos­sess­ing souls are wor­thy of our con­sid­er­a­tion.”

New­man writes her son, who is com­mu­ni­ca­tion-im­paired, has grown from his con­ver­sa­tions with the phone’s as­sis­tant. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, Gus’s speech is gar­bled, and he doesn’t al­ways show in­ter­est in con­vers­ing with peo­ple.

“Re­cently, I had the long­est conversation with him I’ve ever had,” she writes.

The book is a ten­der­hearted and well-writ­ten ac­count of New­man’s un­usual fam­ily. She had twin boys who were born early and af­ter a hard preg­nancy. Her hus­band is a re­tired opera singer who is 30 years her se­nior and lives in a sep­a­rate home in an­other neigh­bor­hood in Man­hat­tan. He never spends the night with New­man and the boys.

The book is worth pick­ing up, es­pe­cially if you love the mem­oir and non-fic­tion genre. There’s much to be learned from New­man’s ru­mi­na­tions and in­sight on many lev­els.

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