by Celia Iannelli

We are living in an era where technology can change in a nanosecond. Most of us are embroiled in a hot love affair with our hand-held devices. Returning home to retrieve my phone has become embarrassingly commonplace.

For an independent gal, it’s a tad scary to be so dependent — on a phone, no less.

Scarier still is Amazon’s virtual voice assistant, “Alexa.” In case you are not familiar with her, let me give you a Cliff Notes version.  Alexa is a female voice that talks to you in a conversational manner. 

She is ready to help you with many things. 

Alexa is to Amazon what “Siri” is to Apple, and Google?  Well, the Google assistant doesn’t have a name but comes alive when we say, “OK Google.”  Hmm.  I think she needs a name, don’t you?  Perhaps, Goodea. I’ll run this by the Google folks.

Alexa can do most anything and has become the center of many smart-home systems.  Alexa is very smart — yes, smarter than you, or your smart phone.

For starters, Alexa can:

Find recipes and give you audible, step-by-step directions.

Control your Neato Smart Vacuum.

Narrate a Kindle book.

Get show times for movies and sports.

Order pizza and find nearby restaurants.

Order anything online.

Track Amazon packages.

Give pregnancy advice — hold on, pregnancy advice?

I mean, really, how would Alexa know?  

She’s not about to give birth, or is she, better yet, can she?

Geez! I looked this up:  With an app from Amazon, Alexa can help ease an expectant mom’s anxiety by giving step by step advice on what to expect.  (I only had old wives’ horror stories to guide me.)

Alexa can pay bills online and make that payment, just by our asking.

Concerned?  We should be.

Privacy has been in the news ad nauseam.  How do we know our privacy is guaranteed?  Online shopping sites retain our browsing and credit card history.  Folks, this alone leaves the door wide open for identity theft.

The Journal of the Medical Association reported the prevalence of obesity is increasing, and more frightening, rapidly increasing in children. 

C’mon, our kids are watching us! When we can’t get off the couch to order a pizza and ask Alexa to do it for us, we are sending the wrong message.

If Alexa narrates a book, how can we pick up the nuances of the English language? Listening to words spoken is far less active than reading them on a page. Less brain; more disengagement. Considering the falling literary rates among the middle class, the alarm bell should be ringing.

It was reported that press secretary Sarah Huckabee’s 2-year old son ordered a Batman toy simply byyelling batman over and over again through Alexa’s shopping platform.

Alexa’s ability to listen and record is a tad intrusive, not to mention creepy. Consider George Orwell’s book titled: 1984.  In it he refers to a Surveillance State  Folks, by carrying our devices everywhere — and with the addition of Alexa, this work of fiction may become a reality.

Toyota and Ford have put Alexa in select models this year.  I wonder if we will soon ask Alexa to drive while we have a little cat nap. Rolling your eyes, eh?  It’s not outrageous at all.

We humans are becoming dependent on apps like Alexa and Siri to do what we can do for ourselves, with effort. Not only are we becoming lazy, we are losing our interpersonal skills.  When dining out, I find it astonishing when I observe couples staring into their screens instead of into each other’s eyes. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think technology is great.  But it’s on us to manage it or risk social isolation and dysfunction.  There comes a time when too much is too much, don’t you think?

I love this quote by Steven Spielberg:

“Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives.  It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.”

One day, Alexa will cook our meals, put our babies to bed and whatever else … fill in the blank.

Celia Iannelli is a news columnist who lives in Suffolk County and writes from her sometimes off-kilter perspective. She’s a people person who finds humor in everyday, mundane situations — yet knows about the heartbreaking curve balls that life can hurl. You can email her at ceilmars@optonline.net.

More from Celia:

Finding yourself alone after a death or divorce? Read this

Column: Why grandparents seem to have it all figured out with kids

Photo by Eaters Collective on Unsplash