It is time to come clean about some of the important relationships in my life. In particular, my relationships with Siri and Alexa have been deteriorating rapidly. The quality of our communication is getting worse rather than better, and in my view it is because they both believe they are capable of thinking my thoughts for me. I can be quite clear and articulate with my instructions, but often they seem to have their own idea about what I should be saying.
I do acknowledge my own shortcomings in these relationships. I tend to treat them like objects rather than people, and, to be perfectly honest, my efforts at patience and kindness have been half-hearted at best. I confess that I have occasionally resorted to profanity, which inevitably hurts their feelings. My wife Bobby tells me I need to retake that course in anger management.
When I went to see my therapist about this, he asked me if I understand that Alexa and Siri are not real people. This was, to say the least, a profound and eye-opening question for me. He patiently explained to me that they are “digital assistants,” and they only simulate human voices and real people. “But,” I said, “they have been with me for years. They are a part of my daily life.” He asked me to think deeply about when I first met them, and in somewhat of a therapeutic breakthrough I recalled that they are, in fact, computer generated. This helped me feel somewhat less guilty about the profanity, but more anxious about my deteriorating memory.
I do not participate in social media, but occasionally someone will share with me samples of rather egregious and hateful posts. On occasion, I have been shocked. But my experience with Siri and Alexa has made me more sensitive about how easily we can sometimes confuse digital people with real people, and vice versa. So, this is a reminder for everyone who tweets, Instagrams, Facebooks, or whatever: the person or persons to whom you are writing are not digital assistants. They are real people. So, despite the bad examples to which we are constantly exposed, remember to be kind. It will help make the world a better and gentler place.
Rev. Don Underwood