Don’t ask me, ask Alexa!

The Standard Journal - - POLCE & FIRE - CAR­ROLL

I’m not the guy you go to when you need di­rec­tions. As my wife will gladly tes­tify, I have got­ten lost in some of the most dan­ger­ous neighborho­ods in Amer­ica. If there’s a wrong turn to be made, I’ve traveled that road. The Clark Gris­wold char­ac­ter played by Chevy Chase in those va­ca­tion movies may have been based on me.

I was too stub­born (and cheap) to buy a GPS when they first came out. About the time I started get­ting in­ter­ested in one, my news pho­tog­ra­pher bragged that his GPS would lead us to a ru­ral school I had never vis­ited, an hour away from Chat­tanooga.

It took us to a cow pas­ture, with no class­rooms in sight.

Of course, GPS units have fol­lowed fax ma­chines and type­writ­ers into the Ob­scure Gad­get Hall of Fame. Our smart­phones and their var­i­ous apps are more ac­cu­rate than ever, and we can even choose the voice (and ac­cent) that tells us where to go. One of my fe­male co-work­ers chose a male voice with a sexy Aus­tralian ac­cent. She sure drives a lot th­ese days.

Gone are the days when you could pull over at the fillin’ sta­tion to ask a good ol’ boy with a chaw of tobacco how to find the Bap­tist church. “Over yon­der a ways, jest past the holler,” he would say. To­day, he pulls out his Android and checks his Waze app.

Since we be­came ac­cus­tomed to be­ing or­dered around while be­hind the wheel, those mys­te­ri­ous voices have in­vaded our homes. When I opened my Christ­mas present from my wife last year, an Ama­zon Echo, fea­tur­ing “Alexa” was in­cluded in the pack­age. I had never seen one, and cer­tainly didn’t want one, but it was free, so why not?

Alexa, in case you don’t know, is the dis­em­bod­ied voice of the round lit­tle gad­get, con­nected some­how to the in­ter­net. She can an­swer all your ques­tions, pay your bills, keep up with your ap­point­ments and drive the kids to school. (Some­times I throw in a lit­tle fake news to see if you’re pay­ing at­ten­tion.)

We plugged her in, and she soon be­came part of the fam­ily. I ask her the tem­per­a­ture (be­cause it’s way too much trou­ble to turn my head and look at the ther­mo­stat), the TV sched­ule, and Cindy Craw­ford’s age. Why is this im­por­tant? It’s re­ally not, but that’s an­other story.

Even though Alexa is only sup­posed to re­act when called upon, (as in “Alexa,

what time does Waffle House close?” The an­swer: “Never”), a friend tells me that Alexa lis­tens even when you are un­aware.. She said, “One time I was cussing while watch­ing a bas­ket­ball game on TV and she told me my lan­guage was in­ap­pro­pri­ate.” My wife has ex­pressed sim­i­lar con­cerns about this po­ten­tial eaves­drop­ping, but I’m OK with it. If those nosy Rus­sians are amused by me search­ing for lost re­motes, I’m glad I can brighten their day.

An­other friend sent me pics of the hol­i­day out­fits her sis­ter makes for Alexa, deck­ing her out in an Easter out­fit, a Christ­mas sweater, and a Hal­loween cos­tume. I be­lieve she sent the pics so I wouldn’t think her sis­ter was crazy. Well, that strat­egy back­fired.

Teach­ers have to be on alert with home­work as­sign­ments, be­cause even sec­ond graders are savvy enough to get Alexa to do their work for them. She knows ALL the an­swers.

I also heard from a friend who got Alexa for his 95-year-old mom, be­cause she’s in­ter­ested in weather. The next time he vis­ited her, she asked him about the fore­cast. He said, “Mom, all you have to do is ask Alexa.” She replied, “Well, I don’t want to bother any­one.” He said, “Mom, it’s not a per­son, it’s a com­puter!” She paused and said, “Oh, there’s a per­son con­nected to it some­where, and she might be busy.”

Fi­nally, a word to the wise: Although th­ese chatty de­vices can be your friend, they can also em­bar­rass you. For in­stance, your car’s driv­ing di­rec­tions app might speak up at an in­ap­pro­pri­ate mo­ment.

This is a true story. A man was rush­ing to get to a fu­neral, lis­ten­ing care­fully to the step-by-step di­rec­tions on his phone, with the vol­ume cranked up above the mu­sic. He ar­rived just in time to rush into the church as the preacher was be­gin­ning his eu­logy about the dearly de­parted. The preacher solemnly asked, “When dear old Un­cle Oswald en­tered those Pearly Gates, do you know what the Lord said to him?” There was just enough of a pause for my friend’s phone to loudly re­ply, “You have reached your fi­nal des­ti­na­tion!”

David Car­roll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,”

a col­lec­tion of his best col­umns. You may con­tact him at 900 White­hall Road, Chat­tanooga, TN 37405 or [email protected]


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