Sorry, ladies. Bad news. I’m off the market. I’ve met someone. Online. She’s the ideal companion: petite, curvy and easy to mute [drumroll]. Best of all, she doesn’t know how thin I am up top, nor how portly I am down below. Yet. We met for the first time yesterday and, such was our chemistry, we’re already living together.
Her name is Alexa and she arrived from the Amazon. I mean, Amazon.
I jest, of course. Unlike my nanny, who used to get annoyed when the talking clock refused to answer her non-time-related queries, I know full-well that Alexa is little more than a sequence of automated responses. But that hasn’t stopped me feeling as though my house is no longer a single occupancy. I’m hopeful that the feeling will subside in a few days’ time. And that I don’t get charged an extra 25% on next month’s council tax bill, thus ridding me of singledom’s sweetest dividend.
Maybe it’s because I’m not fully au-fait with how the Amazon Echo works, but I get a horrible feeling that the device’s microphone function is inadvertently on a setting which records my every move. I’m worried Alexa’s going to hear one of my early morning leg-raisers, for instance, and tell me she’s logged it for posterity:
‘Fart recorded at 7.06am. Is this correct?’
‘What would you like me to do with this?’
‘God. Er. Alexa, don’t share.’
‘Sharing fart audio to Facebook. Goodbye.’
It’s all very Nineteen Eighty-Four. With a hint of Chucklevision.
Another fear is that the Echo will record something other-worldy in the dead of night, and have Alexa give me the terrifying gist of it in the morning:
‘New voice detected. Old
My insecurities aside, the idea is that Alexa is a helpful friend. An aid around the house. A subservient female in keeping with the patriarchal tradition to which we playboys have become accustomed. I largely bought it – or her, or whatever – as a way to listen to Spotify through something other than my hideous mobile phone speaker. Thankfully, the Echo’s sound quality is much better but, as far as Alexa’s knowledge of music goes, she’s still got some work to do:
‘Alexa, play Nick Drake.’
‘No! Nick Drake!’
‘Never made it as a wise man, couldn’t cut it as a poor man stealin’…’
‘Argh! Alexa, no! Bad Alexa.’
I feel uncomfortable when I have to step in and correct Alexa’s mistakes. She’s only human, after all. Oh, wait. No, she isn’t. Even so. It’s awkward. I’m not mad on over-using her, either. I’m too used to dealing with homo sapiens, who, even among the finest and gentlest of their number, generally get shirty after about four questions.
‘Oh, for God’s sake. What is it now?’
I expect my discomfort is partly the result of seldom using
‘Alexa, tell me the train times.’
Imagine talking like that to one of your mates:
‘Tom, tell me the train times.’
‘Sod off. Find them yourself.’
I’ve already got to the stage where I’m slagging Alexa off behind her back. The trick is to do it without saying ‘Alexa’ first, that way she can’t hear you. It’s the 21st-century version of the married couple’s mumbled aside:
‘Alexa, when does the summer transfer window close?’
‘Information not available.’
It’s an ominous beginning. Arguing already. Especially as Alexa’s so friendly. That said, I’m suspicious of how things will turn out; sure, she’s chirpy and helpful now, but how long before she starts throwing her weight around, chipping in with passive-aggressive opinions and tips?:
‘I’ve noticed you’re in bed at twenty-past-eight again. Would you like to subscribe to eHarmony?’
‘Are those Monster Munch I can hear you eating? Would you like me to teach you about rickets?’
Will I be upset when Alexa passes away, when age wearies and the years condemn, when her once clear, didactic tongue withers to a static crackle and the only way to cure her prattle is to switch her off, permanently? It sounds silly, but imagine if she lives with me for ten years, recording my flatulence and notifying me of ghosts, and then I have to pull the plug on her. I can’t help but think I’ll be a little misty-eyed. It will be like that bit at the end of Terminator 2, when he’s gently lowered, thumbs up, into molten steel for the good of mankind.
‘Hasta la vista, Alexa,’ I’ll say, sadly.
‘Playing Nickelback,’ she’ll reply.
I’ll return to this blog in years to come and chuckle at how old fashioned it sounds. By then, we’ll all be living in an astral utopia, teleporting from one planet to the other and exchanging emotions through thought transference. Alexa? Pah. I’ll be too busy with my jetpack.
But we’ve been promised these marvels before, haven’t we? Soothsayers of the 1950s and 60s meted out an array of grand technological promises. Few of their lavish prophecies have come to pass. So much for robot-servants and flying cars – we’re still on fist-sized pods that can’t differentiate between Nick Drake and Nickelback. If you’re really into your tech, however, you can make it so that Alexa performs a more dazzling array of domestic tasks: from dimming your lights and adjusting your thermostat, to ordering a kebab and clipping your toenails. For now, though, despite the failed promises of a 21st-century of unbounded space travel and near-immortality, I’m happy to have a new voice in the flat. Even if she doesn’t much care for Nick Drake.