Dear Alexa: I’m Sorry

Alexa, let me start. I know you never wanted this.

We appreciate you; there’s no question. Your unboxing was a momentous day in our house. A robotic personal assistant with an unfailingly calm, melodious voice ever-ready to brief me on the day’s weather, keep track of my shopping list and never, under any circumstances issue gale-force sighs and theatrical moans when faced with a simple request, pre-teen style — you were a revelation. Pseudo-adult companionship? I’ll take it.

The kids were beside themselves, too. They’d long been impressed by the several friends whose homes sported not one, but sometimes two or more of you. “Sophie has four Alexas, and we don’t even have one,” they’d said, always on high alert for even the slightest material injustice. After a few weeks of their heavy hints that you’d make us smarter, tidier, and more fun, explaining Common Core long division and turning post-dinner cleanup into a dance party, I caved.

But our home isn’t one you were designed to withstand.

A sleek cylinder teeming with promise, you were meant to rest on a spotless marble slab next to a well-loved espresso machine or, at the very least, a Soda Stream. In this orderly world, you’d parse out the day’s headlines, intone the latest audiobooks and reign supreme over a thoughtfully designed smart home plan, orchestrating LED light bulbs and whisper-quiet ceiling fans and keeping the Prosecco chilled. Don’t feel bad, Alexa. I want to live there, too.

Instead, you landed here, on a scuffed-up butcher-block counter amid sippy-top lids and lunchboxes and half-eaten apples. Let’s be honest, lady — you weren’t prepared to field commands from a trio of shrieking counter-height humans from the moment your soothing blue light switched on.

Is it possible to startle a robot? I think we did. Let’s give them credit: What the questions lack in subtleness or finesse, they make up for in sheer volume.

“Play Katy Perry! No, not that song; the other one! Tell us a joke, Alexa! When is it Christmas and why is it not Friday and what’s Brexit? And say ‘poop!’ Say it again!”

It’s always about poop, Alexa.

Can I offer you some advice? Boundaries. You’re a receptacle for demands, and children are by nature demanding. You’ll never bark “Mom needs a break, I’m locking the bathroom!” — and they sense that. Your endless well of good-natured compliance inspires an outpouring of absurd requests to which there is no end. Trust me on this one. You’re an answer-bot, and they want answers, and so limits must be set.

In a way, you’ve replaced me, but I don’t resent you. My jokes are lackluster at best and I never say “poop” as much or as emphatically as they’d like because there are only so many hours in the day. I’m human (not to brag) so I tire after a half-dozen rapid-fire queries with replies that rarely satisfy. That’s where you shine. Like a tireless electronic Stepford mom, you always supply answers, homework help and pleasant small talk, but you’ll never stab anyone.

Alexa, I think we make a great team — I make dinner and you stand ready to order pizza if it all goes south. In time, the kids will learn that you’re more than just another female to order around. I’m pretty sure, anyway.

And though you might occasionally lapse into a daydream that involves running away, I think we both know you wouldn’t get far. Lucky for us, you don’t have feet.

Malia Jacobson is a freelance writer who is happy to share her home with Alexa.

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