A couple of years ago, my son and his wife gave me an Alexa for my birthday. If you don’t know what Alexa is, “she” is a device (Amazon Echo) you can ask random questions of, or ask to play music, among other things.

I don’t use Alexa very often, but yesterday and the day before, I did. First, I asked how to pronounce the last name of presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Alexa didn’t know. (It’s “Boot-a-judge.”)

Then, I wanted Alexa to play the album “Silk Degrees” by Boz Scaggs, one of my favorite musicians, who’s appearing in Cheyenne in September. When I asked Alexa to play the album, she said something that drives me crazy: “Shuffling songs for Silk Degrees by Boz Scaggs.”

I don’t want the songs shuffled! I want to hear them in the same order they appeared on the original LP album! That’s what my mind expects. I stopped Alexa and had her play the songs in order. Whew!

Later, I asked for Queen’s “Greatest Hits.” Alexa decided to shuffle those tunes, too, but wouldn’t heed me when I said “play Queen’s ‘Greatest Hits’ in order.” Alexa just wouldn’t do it. And I lost my temper. I tried over and over again until the veins were bulging in my forehead and my face was red!

Then I realized I was sitting at my computer, about four feet away from Alexa, and I could look up how to get her to stop shuffling the songs.

There was a wealth of information, and I tried lots of ways to get Alexa to do what I wanted, but none of them worked. Finally, I said, “Alexa, turn off shuffle mode.” And it worked!

Here I had gotten angry and basically lost control of myself arguing with Alexa, a machine. That’s what got me. I was arguing with an inanimate object. Thus, here’s what the 21st century is doing to me, to us: We expect machines – basically robots – to do exactly what we want and when.

Alexa is not a pet, nor is she a child, so why did I react the way I did? I think it’s because we have learned to expect our “smart” devices to behave exactly the way we want them to. Instead, they are teaching us how to behave the way they want us to.

Welcome to the 21st century. The predictions made in the 20th century are coming true – man has created machines to do just about everything, except have babies. But little did we know they would be the masters and we would be the slaves, and arguing with them would be to little avail. I bet no one in the 20th century imagined having a machine to argue with.

I felt slightly silly when I realized I was angry at a machine. But then I remembered another time, back in the late 1970s, when the University of Wyoming had a very early computer, bigger than my house, in a glassed-in room that was so cold its technicians wore coats. That was a very long time ago in the evolution of computers.

The computer room was in an underground walkway between the two science buildings west of the Arts and Sciences building. I had been dating a computer guy whose office was in the south building, and I worked in the north building. We would visit on breaks, in that walkway. He told me that he’d teach me how to use a computer.

I asked my boss about it, and he gave his approval for me to learn about computers. So, one day, my friend took me to a small, dark room with a big computer keyboard, about as big as a regular-sized Remington typewriter from the 1950s. My friend gave me a few instructions and left.

I typed in what he had told me to, but the response I got was “bad fid.” (FID is “first input delay,” similar to the first impression a person makes on another person.) I tried repeatedly, getting the same response. I was frustrated and got angry at the huge computer. I got so angry, I stormed out of the room and went to my friend’s office.

When he saw me, and how mad I was, he started to laugh. He had been controlling the responses to my computer! So then I got mad at the person, not the machine. I didn’t think it was funny at all. It was a very long time before I approached a computer again, and definitely not with his help.

But I realize now that while it is normal to get mad at another person, getting mad at a machine is something new. And computers are definitely more stubborn than people are at giving over their secrets, but it is people who make them that way.

In the future, when I get mad at a machine, I will try to remember that the machine was made by people, and that being mad at a machine is pointless. That should help prevent the veins in my forehead from bulging and my throat getting sore, just because of something that has its limitations, all put there by humans.

Alexa, do you hear that?

Kate Missett, a Cheyenne resident and retired writer/editor with printer’s ink in her veins, has lived in Wyoming since 1961. Email: katydidd@bresnan.net.

comments powered by Disqus