I tend to be among the last to hear about trends. In high school or at work I’m pretty much the last one to hear or realize that two people happen to be dating. I guess part of the issue is I typically just don’t care. I’m kind of set in my rhythms, as shall become apparent once again as I lay out this stuff here today.
Only in the last week or so have I become aware that this Amazon Echo trend thing exists. For the uninitiated, the Echo is a new piece of technology that can respond to your voice, like that Siri lady does. Only it’s not a phone, but a weird black cylinder that you can either put on your kitchen table, take into the shower with you, or snuggle under the covers with.
By giving the Echo voice commands, you can get it to play music, tell you the weather, call a cab, order explosives from a Belarusian junk dealer, check local traffic, compile a list of your favorite mustards, buy stuff from Amazon, construct an enemies list, and so on. Much to my surprise (and apparently that of business insiders as well) the Echo has sold quite well.
I don’t understand why this is a thing. Why can’t people take out their mini-computer smartphones and check the weather using that instead? Or why can’t folks just look out the window? Is there really a benefit to one’s life by saving six seconds to audibly ask a machine what the weather is instead of doing it ourselves?
The Echo is also supposed to interface with other smart devices in your home. So you can play music via other speakers, or have the Echo talk to your smart thermostat. That way, instead of walking up to your thermostat to change the setting, you can just have the Echo do it for you thus saving you the nine seconds it would take you to get up off the couch to walk over to your thermostat to do it yourself.
Oh man, this Orwell cat had no idea when he wrote 1984, dude was totally clueless. In his world, Echo would be used by the Giant Eye to enslave humanity. In Amazon’s world, the Echo is a means to separate money from your wallet. Here is how the brave new world is supposed to play out in the globe of Amazon:
1) Your smart refrigerator has sensors to determine what’s inside. The fridge detects you’re running short on mustard.
2) The fridge tells the Echo that you are short of mustard.
3) Based upon your personal settings, the Echo either automatically buys more mustard or audibly asks you if you’d like more mustard.
4) Amazon sends you mustard and charges you for the trouble.
5) Amazon delivers mustard (and whatever else) to your doorstep via drone.
And thus, the end state is that you would always have mustard in your fridge. All without ever thinking about it. Without ever having to take any action yourself. To some folks, I suppose this sounds liberating. To me, this is quite weird. From my perspective, I can just open up the fridge before I go shopping and realize I need more mustard. Then I write that on a list and go get it. It’s pretty straightforward. Yeah, it does take some time, and going to the store can be a pain in the ass, but that’s called life.
I’m not entirely sure how humanity benefits from all this. It’s not like people who are liberated from ever having to think about buying mustard again are going to use that extra time to solve groundbreaking math equations. Folks would probably just use it to binge Netflix more or Snapchat friends. I’d probably just play more video games.
In short, I don’t think the human race needs a tool like the Echo. But Amazon is more than happy to provide it as extra credit to your life, for a price. It’s the very definition of excess. You don’t need this. But you will buy it. Please don’t resist. Amazon thanks you for your cooperation.
Palpy: “For you see, Lord Vader, I’ve determined that the replacement Death Star is obsolete. Instead, we’ll place Echoes into every home within the Empire. Once the masses can get mustard without even thinking, our circle will be complete. Our rule unchallenged.” [cackles] Vader: “Yes, my Master.”
Then there are the privacy concerns that come with hooking up your fridge and Echo voice box to the Internets. I’ve hit the dangers of this concept on this degenerate blog many times. But I’ll go there again, thank you. For example, just take a gander at the Wikipedia verbiage on the Echo.
Even though some of this text is clearly ghost written by somebody in the employ of Amazon, it’s still rather stark at what the Echo does:
a) “…can identify who is present in the home and who is not…”
b) “…though the device is technically capable of streaming voice recordings at all times, and in fact will always be listening to detect if a user has uttered the word…”
c) “…Amazon retains digital recordings of users audio spoken after the ‘wake up word,’…”
In other words, the Echo is a listening device that is always on, never turns off, and stores certain parts of what it hears in the Amazon Cloud, aka Amazon Web Services.
And since our Internets is always vulnerable, somebody can hack these things too. Although I’m sure Amazon has tried rather hard to prevent that. But whether folks are risking hackers, or happy to turn over things they say in their own home to the Amazon servers? Either way, I guess I’m just surprised that millions of folks are perfectly comfortable putting a live listening device in their own home. Just to make their lives a tad bit easier.
I guess I’ll make two closing points. Both along the lines that we should all make sure to remember and unplug.
– Even if you go down this Echo, automated, smart route, please remember to unplug and do things the old way. Just to keep life exciting and maintain an active brain. For example, just for the hell of it, instead of using your smartphone to guide you on your next car trip to an unknown location, use your own brain. Look at a map (an online one is fine) and write out your own route using a pen and paper. Then use said pen and paper while you’re in the car to drive yourself there. For those who can’t remember pen and paper, here’s what my own pen and paper look like:
Or even if you use Echo to get mustard from now own, every once and a while just go buy it yourself.
– Make sure you unplug your wireless router at home when you’re not using online devices. I do mean actually unplug it from the wall. So when you’re cooking, reading, walking your dog, at work, asleep, etc, etc, physically go and unplug your router from the wall. This saves power and makes it virtually impossible for any part of your life to be hacked. You can afford to spend some time unplugged. You’ll live, trust me. And your brain and body will thank you for it.