Ruminations on digital sabbath & smart speakers

by | Sep 11, 2017 | Uncategorized | 30 comments

PS: Apparently the generic term for things like the Amazon Echo is “smart speakers.” Of course, even that is a lie: the speaker itself isn’t “smart,” but connects you to a remote server that runs an artificial intelligence program. Nicholas Carr’s piece can be found here.


  1. Peter

    An excellent précis on the Echo and similar devices! My feelings exactly. I also feel weird speaking to a device, especially in front of other humans. (I have an iPhone, but never use Siri) And why anyone would deliberately install a spy-capable listening device in their home is beyond me. (Yes, I realize other devices could be hacked to the same effect, but why make it so easy for malicious users?)

  2. Richard P

    Carr cleverly points out that every Narcissus needs an Echo.

    Thanks for the link to the interesting Newsweek story. I believe keyboards will be around for a very long time. And QWERTY will persist.

  3. Joe V

    I appreciate your deconstruction of these devices as enabling a sense of class distinction, virtual slaves; while in reality enslaving the user to some amorphous AI – like the Borg in the Star Trek universe.

    It makes me wonder if we have some latent cultural genetics referencing the founding of America on a slave economy, that periodically seems to rear its ugly head.

    Anyway, great thoughts on a digital sabbath.

  4. Richard P

    Thanks. As for the legacy of American slavery, it's everywhere.

  5. Bill M

    Reality Day. I like that. Many of my weekends are spent away from the computers and digital devices especially here in MI where I can get out in the woods. Most of the gadgets we have are very unnecessary. I always liked electronics from as long as I can remember, yet I fail to see the need for most of the digital expensive toys out there in the world the Echo being one of them. Then there is the IOT. Purge garbage only good for the big corporations who push it to sell their made anywhere but the USA junk. Then I swore I'd never switch from my flip phone (one hand operation) (until I lost it) now I have 2 very awkward to use (two hand operation and silly security garbage) 'smart' phones. Joe V makes a good point, slave economy. There are many self-made digital slaves in the world.

  6. Ton S.

    Thanks for the interesting insights. I also appreciate your Patria post for reasons I will share in the future (;

  7. DonN

    Can you imagine a future generation comparing the merits of the buttons on old flip phones? Religion has been surpassed by "technology for its own sake" as the opiate of the masses! I recently picked up another 1956 Oliver Courier for $10. It's well built but the platen is so hard it hurts my ears to type on it; however I do like the typeface, which is elegant compared to the common and bland pica/elite. Just the right style for marriage licenses! The action is unusual in that it will print a good impression even when pressing the keys slowly, a good thing for a learner, since you don't require the "touch" to get a good dark mark on the page.

  8. WiltedLotus

    Although I've resisted living in a "smart" home, I know people who believe this approach is energy-saving. The argument is that higher efficiency leads to using less energy, which can help us fight climate change. I feel that companies and large institutions waste more energy and are better targets. The only negatives I hear from computer scientists working in this area are that security is a challenge, as you might imagine. It would be naive to think that all data collected from our devices will not be used for profit; this is already happening. Big Data is a rapidly growing field. I work with academics who specialize in smart tech (editing and reading papers, which is decidedly low tech). I hope to learn more. Thank you for encouraging the discussion. There are implications that many of us aren't yet aware of, and I think that any smart tech needs to be looked at critically. We might opt for some of it, but should do so with our eyes open. Many 20-somethings haven't known life without this kind of interconnectivity and don't see any problem. Also, some people advocate for wiring up institutions, utilities, and homes for altruistic reasons. For example, many fire hydrants leak badly underground, which wastes a lot of water. Smart tech can monitor what's going on and is less invasive than digging up a street in search of a leak. Whether reduction in energy use through smart tech actually helps protect our planet remains to be seen, but it has been interesting to hear how land-line telephones are working in the Florida Keys after the hurricane, while cell phones aren't. Maybe we need to be *really* smart about how we use tech.

  9. Ted

    Yeah, there's no way I'll be letting IOT into my house or car until I'm far too infirm and addled to be concerned about my self-ownership – I'm far too aware of how badly security is done in most of them. can't stop the future (well, aside from some civilization-smashing catastrophe) as long as the monkeys chase shinies – but we choose to be imprisoned; it is a choice.

  10. Richard P

    Thanks for a comment from someone who—unlike me—actually understands the tech!

  11. Richard P

    Digital technology can certainly promote energy efficiency in some situations. A simple example is my programmable thermostat. I doubt that a smart speaker is needed to manage an energy-efficient home, though.

  12. C.M. Mayo

    Dear Richard, Thank you for blogging on this. I share your sentiments on this matter. My guess as to why these Orwellian items are so amaze-balls popular is that so many people equate the latest aggressively marketed techno-whizzerie out of whatever is the most visible and top-ranking corporation with progress and status. I mean to say, they are signalling that to their friends, families, neighbors and offspring. I would think they think of themselves as early adapters. I am not so old but old enough to recall the widespread fad for smoking cigarettes… Well, people have been known to do the daftest things, especially when other people of apparently high status are doing those same daft things. (And they don't hand out PhDs in Marketing for nothing.) Still, I find it difficult to comprehend.

  13. Richard P

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, no doubt social status has a lot to do with it. How gullible we are!

  14. Alex

    I've been listening to this podcast called Note to Self (http://www.wnyc.org/shows/notetoself/) for a bit longer than my burgeoning interest in typewriters. Readers here may finds its focus on the relationship between people and technology quite interesting.

  15. Unknown

    That Patria has beautiful lines. I must admit, sadly, that I tend to prefer form over function when it comes to typewriters, though my Hermes 3000 has both in spades!

  16. C.M. Mayo

    Interesting, indeed, thank you.

  17. Artfulscribe

    If you can order a pizza and turn on the front porch light via voice activation, it will free up your hands for typing.

  18. Becky

    Oh, and by the way, I was an early Echo adopter and now have two! Bwah ha ha…

  19. Richard P

    Do they have conversations with each other?

  20. Becky

    I like having immediate access to all my music–and all of Amazon's music–and all my audio books even when I'm elbow deep in bread dough, it's an intercom so I can get my husband's attention without standing at the foot of the stairs and screaming, I occasionally need to know a factoid (usually involving measurement or to win an argument) very quickly, often while cooking, it will call my family if "I've fallen and can't get up" ?, it plays soothing nature sounds to lull me to sleep, and then wakes me up in the morning, it reminds me of appointments on my calendar, and, yes, I can holler out my "To Do" list items or my shopping needs as they occur to me, on the fly…and then ORDER them if I want it to! I don't give a damn if Alexa is eavesdropping, because my Life on the Internet has been an open book for nearly 20 years, and I don't give a Tinker's damn.

  21. Richard P

    Thanks. Sounds handy … or should I say hands-free?

  22. Abby Hogan

    I wonder what that Priest could be typing on that Patria with that stylish couple looking on!

  23. Richard P

    A marriage license? In any case, it seems like the perfect image for a reactionary and male-supremacist culture!


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