“Alexa, put marshmallows on the shopping list!” my son Evan yelled into the cylindrical speaker sitting on our kitchen counter.
“Evan, you don’t have to yell at it, and we don’t need marshmallows,” I said.
“I added marshmallows to your shopping list,” the speaker replied, deciding that it was human enough to both refer to itself in the first person, and to choose sides in a family debate.
“Take marshmallows off the shopping list,” I said, but Alexa sat in silence. I’d forgotten she plays by “Simon Says” rules.
Without skipping a beat, Evan said, “Alexa, add Jell-o to the shopping list.”
“I added Jell-o to your shopping list,” Alexa replied.
“Hooray!” Evan cheered, taking a victory lap around the kitchen, not appreciating the very loose correlation between what goes on the shopping list and what we actually buy.
He was ganging up on me with our new Amazon Echo, a device that invaded our home, along with approximately five million other homes, this holiday season. Amazon sold out of the devices well before Christmas, rewarding me for making the purchase way back on Black Friday, which gets its name from the amount of money that retailers make, and also from the color it turns our souls.
I bought the Echo for my wife, Kara, because we’ve been together for almost seventeen years, running at a rate of about thirty gift-giving occasions per year. To avoid reruns, I can only buy her things that were invented since the last occasion. For her next birthday, I’m hoping to buy her pretzels that get themselves out of the pantry, to save her the effort of asking me to get them for her.
For now, though, we’re still getting used to having the Echo in our home, sitting on the kitchen counter, listening to our every conversation in the hopes that someone will say, “Alexa, put boogers on the shopping list.” Well, that might not be what she’s hoping to hear, but that’s what she’s going to get in our house.
Some privacy advocates (who must have something to hide) have noted that allowing a corporation to monitor every word you say in your home might not be the smartest idea. In Arkansas, the police are seeking to retrieve information that an Echo may have recorded at a murder scene, raising an important point: You should always unplug your Echo before you murder someone. As a corollary, if you’re hanging out with someone and you notice them unplugging their Echo, you might want to quickly find a different place to hang out.
Of course, the main purpose of an Echo is to play music, and I’ll be able to use the Echo to play motivational tunes while I use the gift that my kids got for me: A pull-up bar that rests on the trim atop a door frame, and somehow magically doesn’t rip the whole door frame down when a grown man ringed with five extra pounds of Christmas cookies hangs from it. So far, the bar seems like a fantastic piece of workout equipment. Some exercise programs brag about taking only thirty minutes out of your day, but as it turns out, with that thing, I can do a complete upper-body workout in five seconds.
“Why are you dangling there, Daddy?” Evan will ask.
“Don’t bother Daddy while he’s dangling,” I’ll respond, then the door frame will creak with relief as I drop to the floor, exhausted. It’s going to take a lot of dangling before I look like the guy on the box.
Plus, dangling works up a hunger. Maybe we’ll leave the marshmallows and Jell-o on the list after all.
You can ask Mike Todd to stop listening to everything you say in your house at firstname.lastname@example.org.