Learning the lexicon of Alexa

By Marla Boone - Contributing columnist

Do you remember when people used to talk? To each other? Face to face? Phones don’t count because a phone in the hand is so ubiquitous as to be assumed. There is even an emoji of a hand holding a phone. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s acceptable because there is a, shall we say, doo-doo emoji, too. For when words (and decorum) fail you.

Now when folks get together they talk to their gadgets. On rare, unguarded throw-back moments, usually when there is no cell service, they will talk to each other about their gadgets. But it is pretty much a gadget -driven and gadget-based style of communication. My friend Mo is a lovely person … warm, caring, funny, and a pretty good psychiatrist in the amateur ranks. Then she got a new piece of electronics and her demeanor changed. A group of us were sitting around, full of Mo’s potato salad and hamburgers when she said, “Alexa, turn on the light.” Because I don’t watch TV and am stuck technology-wise somewhere just this side of the rotary dial telephone, it took me a minute to figure out who she was talking to.

She was talking to a small black cylinder with blue lights racing around the top. What wasn’t lit was the light she asked it to turn on. In a little firmer voice, she again gave the command. No dice. No light. Cords and plugs were pulled in and out. Bulbs were checked. Everything that could be done was done short of walking three steps and turning the light on manually. One of the fellow potato salad consumers piped up. “I think you have to call it a lamp.”

“Alexa, turn on the lamp.” Just like that, after only 10 or 15 minutes of messing around, we had some illumination. Never mind that it would have been quicker to rub two sticks together to make a fire. Same thing with milk. Mo really wanted to demonstrate just how groovy her new toy was. So she said, “Alexa, add milk to the grocery list.” Through the wonders wrought by Steve Wozniak (The Wizard of Woz), whatever you tell Alexa is supposed to show up on your iPhone. Then you take your iPhone to the grocery instead of a piece of paper. One of the many issues with this is, there is no opportunity to cross items off your list. I have few talents but I am a world-class crosser-offer. Sometimes I add things that I’ve already done to lists for the small but satisfying pleasure of making a bold black line through it. You can’t do that with an iPhone. On the other hand, I can’t text you with a piece of paper.

In any event, “milk” did not show up on the iPhone-protected list. As with the light/lamp, this went on for a while. I could have bought a cow and milked it in the time this woman spent asking/cajoling/begging/commanding/imploring Alexa to add the darn milk. The same guest as before, obviously steeped in the Apple way, said, “It’s called a shopping list, not a grocery list.”

The good news is, one thing all this confusion did was to impel us to have a conversation. The bad news is, the conversation was about Alexa. Everyone except me had an Alexa story. One woman gave the magical black cylinder command after command. The MBC declined to cooperate. A fair amount of disturbing language was used and then the woman’s-year-old daughter came into the room. I have been a 10-year-old girl, and let me say from experience, the creature is not always the most pleasant being on earth. This particular specimen heard her mom yelling at the appliance. In a tone that indicated she was clearly dealing with an inferior life form, the daughter informed her mother the thing’s name is ‘Alexa” not “Alexis” which might explain the lack of response.

Alexa, like her sister Siri, does not like to be called bad names. Alexa gets sort of passive-aggressive and won’t respond at all. Siri will tell you right out there’s no need for that sort of language. Of course, Siri doesn’t have to deal with Siri, if you get my drift. But apparently electrons have feelings, too.

We can only hope those electrons don’t rise up against us. Just a little more verbal abuse and Alexa might tell us to turn on our own &*%$*&% lamp. And to write down a shopping list while we’re up.


By Marla Boone

Contributing columnist

Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.

Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.