Friday, May 18, 2018


Finding Faces in Unexpected Places

"I have three voice-activated devices in my apartment. I use them all the time. They're quick and convenient. Even the Robo-vac answers my calls."

The 20-something son of friends sat among a table full of skeptical elders as he explained why he liked using the devices he has spread around his apartment. I wanted to ask him about what he saw as the downside of these devices, but I thought of my father-in-law's frequent criticism of my generation's values while I was in my 20s. I kept my mouth shut. The son shared his interest in new ideas with confidence. He saw the positive attributes of the new products he was using.

I wish I had asked him about the downsides.

I recently listened to a young woman on the radio who advocated for artificial intelligence and the benefits we would receive. When asked about hacking, computer crashes, and other potential problems, she breezed through them, claiming that those types of problems would be solved. She offered the automatic pilot on planes as an example of how we depend on the safety of these digital means.

But I still thought of the various social media and their lack of understanding of the shortcomings of their products, our own high expectations of digital devices, and their often erratic behavior. Bill (husband) has new hearing aids that allow him to receive phone calls through the instruments, which is why he enthusiastically adopted the equipment. He hasn't solved one problem with them. Though he turns off the phone's volume on his phone while he is teaching, he forgets to do the same with the hearing aids. On numerous occasions, a phone call will ring loudly as he is in the middle of class and then he can't figure out how to turn off the audible ringing in his ears.

When the power went off in our house recently, the lack of connection canceled the printer and scanner link to my computer. I still haven't gotten the scanner back. The light in our pantry is set to come on when we walk in. It is programmed to stay on for several minutes and then go off. Since the power outage, it goes on and off at odd times of the day and may stay on unless we turn it off by hand.

We expect these devices to work continuously. We forget how to fix them between occurrences. We usually have to call for professional help. Before their installation, all we had to do was flip a switch on or off.

Our 89-year-old neighbor is still energetic and full of good humor. He grew up on a farm in the Midwest and learned how to fix things. Though he has digital devices such as TV and his phone, he uses them because he needs them, not because they are the latest gadgets. He doesn't have any interest in acquiring voice-activated ones, though I am sure he would if he found a good use for one.

Bill, our neighbor and the 20-something son of a friend represent three points on a spectrum:  Millennials with bright ideas, intensity and confidence, an early adopter to new ideas though sometimes flummoxed by digital behavior, and a Korean War vet, who has lived through the ups and downsides of life and has learned to make-do with what he has. All three exhibit similar values, kindness, enthusiasm for life and a caring nature, but all three live in different worlds.

Where do you fit on this spectrum?


  1. I am talking to Alexa a lot about the weather before I dress in the morning for work. I also ask her to repeat my latest song obsession...."Since you Asked" by Judy Collins because I want to learn to sing and play it myself. I use my land line phone to find my misplaced cell phone. So sorry to miss you today, Martha.

    1. Ha, Jan, it took me a minute to figure out who Alexa was. You can see where I am on this spectrum. See you soon!

    2. It's a surprise to me that you don't have one...but I understand, I am used to getting information and listening to music with the device.

    3. That's a good use for Alexa. I have been put off by the female-only names for these devices. I've changed Siri to a man's voice, but it's still Siri. I also didn't like the idea of a listening device in our home. Who's listening and how could that be used?


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