Not long ago we bought an Amazon Echo (some opt to call it Alexa, which I voted for but my husband wasn’t comfortable giving stern commands to an inanimate object with a human’s name), mainly to listen to live radio and podcasts in the kitchen while we’re cooking. It didn’t take long for us to realize that it’s not necessarily a one-way communication device. Or inanimate.
Not that Echo moves, but it does sometimes seem to have a mind of its own. Either that, or we have ghosts.
Working from home, I hear everything that happens in the house during the day. The wind travels around the house and makes it creak from one room to the next, the front door makes cracking noises when it’s not locked, car doors slam, kids at the school across the street scream like feeding hyenas during gym and recess, the heat thumps on and off, ice cubes plunk in the freezer, and the cats click throughout the house on overgrown nails I really need to cut. That’s about it.
Except, every once in awhile I hear a soft, warm, concerned, almost maternal voice say something like “I’m sorry, I can’t find what you’re looking for.” Or, “Would you like me to add alt country as a station on your Pandora account?” Or even “I can order a multipack of toilet tissues for you on Amazon, using your Prime account.”
Every time I hear that voice I freeze, thinking “Oh my god. I didn’t talk to Echo. No one talked to Echo. WHO IS ECHO RESPONDING TO?”
Cautiously–but casually (as if someone is watching and judging me for being afraid of a small electrical device)–I’ll walk into the kitchen to see what Echo is talking about. By then she is silent, but the cats are usually sitting on the kitchen floor, looking at her on top of the fridge, the blue swirling light that means she has been alerted to conversation now turned off. I never know if they are watching the conversation, or instigating it. I’m guessing they are spectators, as they would be ordering something more cat-friendly than toilet paper.
More recently, Echo has gotten a little mischievous. Maybe we’re not talking to her enough and she’s lonely, bored, and starting to lash out.
One day I was getting something out of the fridge for my son, and he was right next to me. I don’t remember why; it’s not like I need help getting anything out of the fridge. He looked up at Echo and said “Remember when Dad said ‘Echo, volume 10,’ and it was SO loud?”
I looked at him in horror and suddenly everything went into slow motion, like that final, horrible scene in Platoon, and before I could say “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” (which I would have said in slow motion while tackling him to the ground, if we were in a movie instead of in our kitchen), Echo went to volume 10. The jazz station was on, which could have been a good thing, except that at that moment, it was a raucous drum solo complete with mirambas. It was deafening.
Ok, I thought, I’ll just tell Echo to turn the volume down. With my hands over my ears, I yelled “Echo!” The blue light didn’t come on. “Echo! Volume down!” Still no blue light. That bitch was purposely ignoring me. Then my son got into the act, screaming “Echo, volume down!” at the top of his lungs, which only made it more chaotic.
“Pull the plug! Pull the plug!” he yelled. I could reach Echo, but only with one arm, and couldn’t pull the plug out with only one hand. Paralyzed, I held the cylindrical device close to my face and continued hollering. Finally, the blue light came on and Echo heeded my command. Traumatized, I told her to turn the music off completely.
In the welcome silence of the kitchen, my son said “Whew,” holding his hand to his heart and repeating “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I’ll never do that again.”
I don’t know if he was apologizing to me, or to Echo.