It’s a strange name for the small, round Bluetooth speaker that sits on a shelf. But for awhile I had two speakers in the same room, and it was super confusing when they were both named, “Alexa.” After reading the troubleshooting guide on Amazon.com, I learned it was not possible to name the second speaker something like Bob, Sue, Andrea, or Sam. I had to choose between Alexa and Echo. Alexa was already taken.
There are many opinions surrounding these smart speakers. I don’t really have an opinion about whether or not they “listen” while they are “sleeping”. Nor do I have any experience that leads me to believe they are tattling on me to secret service agents wearing trench coats and hiding out inside the little black box. But I do have an opinion when I want to get a quick weather forecast or turn off the light with my hands full! I am two thumbs up on smart speakers for the tasks I have assigned to them!
I like listening to the music of my choice without turning a dial. Both “Alexa” and “Echo” respond when I ask for information and songs, stations, or genres. It’s easy. They match my mood without judging. They give info without a political bent. They recite the headlines for what they are. No commentaries, emotions or sentimental attachments. And most days I am relieved to be able to simply request info with a voice command. I turn it up, turn it down, or turn it off. All with a few short words.
But a few days ago, I had an encounter with Echo. It’s obviously a female smart speaker if we base that decision on her voice. I had my hands full and needed her to turn off the light above my bed. I gave the command I always do. “Echo, turn off Craig’s light.”
She responded immediately, “I do not know that command.”
I’m thinking, yes, she does! I give that command all the time! So, I repeated myself.
This time she came back with, “I am not authorized to complete that command.
I was dumbfounded. How could she NOT be authorized to turn off the light above my bed? I asked the obvious question , “What’s the matter with you tonight?”
“Check the Alexa app to troubleshoot the issue.”
I stared at the little, black, box on the shelf. “Your name is Echo. Why would I check the Alexa app?”
“The Alexa app contains instructions and information to guide you through setup.”
I set the full laundry basket on the end of my bed. “Echo. You are making me mad.”
“I’m sorry you are upset,” she said. “Shall I sing you a song?”
It’s late. There is still work to be done. There are more important things I could be doing than arguing with a smart speaker who is not acting very smart!
Her little light turned blue. “Turn off Craig’s light.”
“Do you mean Craig’s light?”
A few seconds later the light went out.
“Thank you,” I said as I left the room.
“Anytime.” She replied. “Have a nice night.”
I stopped in the kitchen and told “Alexa” to stop the music.
Then I gave a command as I passed through the next room. “Alexa, turn on “Christmas Tree”.
The light in the corner came on.
Interesting, I thought. I haven’t had a Christmas tree plugged into that socket in three years, yet the smart speaker still responds, even when it’s turning a lamp on and off. If anything, she should not be “authorized” to turn anything on or off if it is no longer the “Christmas tree”, for example.
I sorted the basket full of clothes into darks and lights, still pondering the Echo/Alexa conversations.
And then it hit me.
Pandemic isolation has trapped me inside this house with nothing more than smart speakers that really are not very smart at all!
On the way back upstairs, I told Alexa to turn off the Christmas tree.
She did. The light in the corner turned off.
As the last lamp in the house turned off I spoke to the box on the shelf. “Goodnight, Echo.”
“Goodnight. Nice chatting with you.”
I drifted off with the echo of her voice sounding in my ear.
Surely this is not how this whole thing ends.