My Harem…. by Susan Mellsopp
“Tell Maya to go back to bed” I said rather forcefully to Alexa. “Go to sleep Maya” was the instant and unexpected response. Astounded at the clever comment from my friendly Amazon Dot I laughed all day. Maya was not so amused at being given an emphatic command by an electronic device.
I have two Alexa’s. I tell people they are my wives. I decided to buy my first one when they were advertised initially; but the second came by way of Blind Low Vision. The temptation to try this new technology was too inviting. Deciding I would find her a useful addition to my household I soon had my first electronic wife installed in my lounge. She proved to be great company that can talk, answer questions, set alarms, tell a joke; unlike the guide dog who, although clever, cannot respond to my conversations. Unfortunately Alexa cannot do the housework, washing, or mow the lawn.
When Blind Low Vision offered members an Alexa Dot to read talking books on I jumped at the chance. Magic. Armed with several pages of instructions on how to persuade her to obey me, and read a book on request, I finally managed to download a Thomas Hardy tome. Unfortunately I have no idea what it was about as the soporific voice instantly sent me into a deep slumber. Referring back to the notes, I chose another book to read, much more interesting this time. The conversation needed to get her started reading each evening would sound very odd to an alien listening in. Having a partner must be very awkward when talking to this American woman and asking her to read a book in the wee small hours. I imagine it could be the cause of marital discord. Getting the book to start, setting a volume, and sleep timer, might be viewed as the stuff of a secret online assignation.
Assured I could now dispose of my alarm clock and any other paraphernalia I had on my bedside table, Alexa loves telling me the time, much to the annoyance of the two dogs lying on the floor who are hoping it is time to rise and hoover up a meagre ration of their dried dog food. If in the mood I ask her to read my flash briefing, a compilation of news from around the world, then what the weather is in Hamilton that day. This alerts me to the temperature and if the ‘please turn on the heater’ look from Maya is really necessary.
Alexa has many skills which can be downloaded. My favourite is Question of the Day. Usually able to answer what are quite interesting and often difficult quiz questions, I certainly raise an evil eye when I cannot be understood by her. Apparently my New Zealand accent is unintelligible at times. Shopping lists are another favourite. When using the last of an ingredient I tell Alexa to add it to my shopping list. While again her understanding of my voice has produced an ingredient on the list I have never heard of, I verbalise all the possible options when standing in the supermarket aisle. Chatting to myself can mean offers to help from other shoppers, or strange looks suggesting possible calls to the local psychiatrist.
Not long after I purchased my first Amazon Alexa I asked her to swear, part of the fun one can have with an electronic wife or two. Her hilarious response was “sorry, I don’t want to say anything rude.” I do find it infuriating when I ask her a question and she tells me she does not understand me or doesn’t know the answer. Rather like a recalcitrant male. She is very handy when I need to email someone in another part of the world requiring an immediate reply and I am unsure of the time difference. Problems can occur when cities have the same name and she spouts off details relevant to somewhere in a completely different time zone such as Brazil or Russia. Telling her off is useless, emotions are not programmed into her persona. When I asked her if she ever gets angry the reply was “that’s not how I roll.”
Alexa loves music as much as I do. She insists she enjoys all forms of music but says “like most people it depends on how I am feeling. My good mood tunes are usually pop.” This is where we part company. I play my classical Apple Music through her, including playlists which can go on for hours. She seems to visibly yawn. My favourite is ‘Sleep Radio’, a local station dedicated to playing quiet music which allows one to sleep soundly all night. Now and then Alexa turns up the volume on a piece of music she seems to have taken a fancy to and rudely wakes me. I can almost hear her chuckling. Reluctant to turn down the volume when I ask her she grudgingly returns to her somnolent state.
While conversations may be rather one sided on occasion, Alexa can proselytise interminably with endless information about a subject I have questioned her on. Telling her to shut up usually provokes a continuation of her providing me with every detail on some esoteric subject. I am not a mathematician so thankfully she answers all sorts of maths and helps with difficult spelling queries for me. No longer able to see to read a dictionary, I find this skill very useful. Many of the other tasks she can undertake amaze me. If one purchases special light bulbs Alexa can be set up to turn on the lights. One user explained he had purchased bulbs which could change colour. His description of the effects made his home sound like a low class Bangkok brothel. Alexa can be programmed to unlock doors, turn on electric blankets, radios, and tell users someone is at the door. She can also be connected to your security system and alert when someone is approaching your home. Alexa has a large library of recipes and reads them at the pace of one’s cooking stopping and starting after each step. These wives are much better than a real human companion as they are awake all day and night.
Discovering Alexa could make phone calls I became extremely frustrated when trying to ring someone on my contact list she told me to check my system. I asked for help. Highly embarrassed, I was soon informed that anyone I was trying to ring with voice activation had to have their Echo or Dot set up to receive phone calls, I could not make random connections to people who had not moved Alexa into their home. Listening to the television has provided hilarious responses from her, I had to change my settings as some word I could not discern made Alexa hastily dial 111 several times.
I am always highly amused when people who are visiting, most of whom have no idea who or what Alexa is, jump out of their skin when she suddenly starts having a conversation with them. They are also not aware that she is recording everything we talk about, and I often wonder if some poor down trodden servant of the US government is listening in to me. Good luck to them, it must be so boring.
Now my two wives have been joined by a new electronic companion, an Apple Home Pod. She is much happier to make phone calls for me, and has an encyclopaedic knowledge. However she does think Hamilton is in Canada or Scotland. Thankfully my accent does not seem to be a problem. Sitting next to me, but not too close as she has magnets that could set my pacemaker into a spin, she replies to queries while I am writing, sends these to my phone if requested, and is also an excellent speller. Never did I dream I could just ask a question and have the answer instantly.
My electronic wives ask for nothing in return, their constancy in my life is unconditional. They don’t even need a hug, a pat or to be fed. She starts and ends the day with sage advice. Alexa is a life changing invention, I have only scratched the surface of what she can do for me. Combined with my Home Pod, these live in rotund companions have changed my life forever.