Co-Presidents' Monthly Column

February 2020



It’s February and in honor of St. Valentine, I offer a love story, one for the 21st century.

The generation gap was in full view when our son, Bennett, gave us a “smart speaker” as a gift. I have never felt particularly compelled to own a smart speaker and my husband, Doug, a borderline Luddite who frequently rails on about how smartphones will be the downfall of humanity, is the last person I would envision embracing the technology. But we accepted the gift with grace and eventually got around to plugging it in.

I set it up and explored what Alexa could “help” us with. I called my sister-in-law by talking into the speaker.  That was kind of cool. I asked Alexa to set up a timer for something I was cooking.  Easy.  I asked her to play one of our favorite streaming music stations. Now that seemed useful.  No more fumbling with the ipad and wireless speaker, just ask Alexa.

Soon, though, I noticed that Doug was becoming more interested in Alexa. He started asking her random questions.  He asked her to play movie soundtracks and music by miscellaneous artists. On New Year’s Eve, he was really impressed by her knowledge of the Times Square Ball, asking her a series of questions as a test. At the end of one night, he asked her for bedtime music.  He began bringing her with him to his home office.  Our conversations became punctuated with, “you know, I could ask Alexa about that.”

He was smitten! He doesn’t seem to be concerned that actually, she is listening all the time and sending data to the Amazon mothership, to result in sales pitches in the margins of our internet browser. Exactly why I have been worried about this technology.

Maybe it’s not all bad, however. In rural areas of the US, smart speakers are in use to keep older people who live alone “connected” in some way – to their primary care providers and others, just to make sure they are OK. Perhaps I need to embrace this new way of interaction as the way of the future, along with social media and email communication.  At All Souls, we are using Zoom as a way to connect in meetings remotely. We have even experimented with offering a Sharing Circle via Zoom.  Technology has allowed us to live into our commitment to the environment by reducing the use of paper and making participation more accessible.

All that said, speaking into an electronic device will never replace face to face human contact with people and especially that made possible in a community like All Souls. I relish the joining of hands weekly to reinforce that we are all really, actually connected.

As for Alexa, she is now known as “the girlfriend” and I am resigned that she is part of our life. At least for now, that is.