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i recently bought amazon's most recent technology offering--echo. it is very similar to iPhone's siri but instead of being carried around in your pocket, it sits somewhere in your home. i situated ours on a window shelf in the kitchen. it's a fun sort of toy that can play 80's music (my preference) while you cook, make note of things you need from the store, tell you jokes (anthony's favorite) or even play rock, paper, scissors with you (alex's favorite). i got this in part because i happened upon amazon's front page moments after they announced the lottery for prime members to be one of the first to try it (at half price). i almost never buy someone's first cut at something but i've been impressed by amazon's committed approach to their tech endeavors and find stuff coming out of their camp to be thoughtfully done (kindle). i also knew my kids would get a kick out of it.

once in play, you wake the device by saying "Alexa" to which it/she will wake to acknowledge your question, visible by a smart-looking blue pulse from the lighted ring at the top of the device. examples of these interactions may go:
  • alexa, play me some 80's pop music
  • alexa, tell me a joke.
  • alexa, put bananas on the shopping list.
  • alexa, is it supposed to rain today.
for a version one of the device i would say it works very well and does for us everything you could reasonably expect. but after a few weeks of use marty made an interesting observation.

MARTY
i don't like the way kids are talking to, or at, that alexa thing.

TROY
what do you mean?

MARTY
i mean they bark orders at it and command it to do things. i just don't like the sound of it. they sound harsh. rude. demanding. it's hard for me to hear my kids talking like that, even if it is to a piece of plastic.

i took notice after this and found she was completely right. either i hadn't been paying attention or chose to ignore it but after marty planted this notion in my head i too found it unpalatable. so at a the dinner table i announced to the kids that we had a new house rule--any time you addressed alexa you had to do so using proper manners and courtesy. as in:
  • alexa, play me some 80's pop music please.
  • alexa, please tell me a joke.
  • alexa, put bananas on the shopping list please.
  • alexa, can you tell me if it is supposed to rain today.
and when she offered what we had asked you were to say thank you. the kids argued a bit at first saying that alexa didn't like manners and they confused her. we tested this a bit and they were somewhat right but we found that in a nicety in the middle of a request fouled her up you could always add a please to the end without issue. my kids did the next thing they always do when a new rule is introduced and asked what would happen if they were caught breaking the rule. at this time, being rude to alexa will cost you one week of screen time (the ultimate kid currency. i reckon the loss of recreational screen time would injure most adults as well.).

so our house is back to its previous civil self and i find myself currently wanting just one more change, a change i'm not able to make. i wish alexa would respond to good manners with good manners and that after she fills some request and my child says thank you that she would say "you're welcome" instead of the plastic silence she currently provides. but if my hunch about amazon is at all accurate, i wouldn't be surprised to see a few such retorts added to her programming in the next release or two.

JUN2015

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