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The Column: This time, Alexa's got me singing a different tune

Staring at the little device, I thought why

Staring at the little device, I thought why not give it a try? Privacy? At this point, what's left to hide? Credit: AP/Mark Lennihan

Plaid neckties? Cheapo scarves? Fleece-lined gloves? Woolly socks? Long-sleeve T-shirts?

I’m good with all the above.

Underwear, even. Who couldn’t use a couple extra pairs?

Simple gifts at Christmas or birthday — the best.

Anything that requires batteries or house current, any tool or device, usually means trouble. The family will think you have hinted at a cordless leaf blower when really all you wanted was a garden rake. Mild curiosity at model airplanes risks a drone under the tree.

As age advances, I yearn for simplicity.

Stick with the familiar. Don’t push your luck. People say you can be bored to death. I am willing to volunteer for the medical trial.

And so you can imagine my alarm at Christmas when, to my wife and me, was given a small box from our eldest child and his wife that revealed — yes, Alexa.

This is the famous Amazon electronic handmaiden that does everything but wash the windows, and even that could be part of her portfolio.

“Alexa, there is a smudge on the sliding doors.”

“Yes. I am having someone take care of it.”

At a diner after the holiday, my daughter-in-law, Sharon, a big fan of Alexa, delivered a stream-of-consciousness tutorial on the device.

“She can do so many things,” exulted Sharon. “Weather reports, wake-up calls, music, shopping lists, sports scores, even turn off the lights if you have a smart home system.” (You may not be surprised but our home did not graduate summa cum laude.)

On the other hand, our younger daughter, Jamey, was equally animated but filled with alarm.

“Alexa is a spy,” she warned. “She’s always listening. For you, this is dangerous.”

Jamey continued: “All that talk about braining one politician or another. Or that the Mets front office should be strung up. Or that you’d like to strangle the guy who cut you off on the Southern State. You’re an indictment waiting to be unsealed. Forget Alexa.”

It is true that people worry “virtual assistants” like Alexa and her competitors lurk forever in snoop-mode. News articles advise consumers to be careful.

A couple of years ago, I went on a long rant, myself — right here, in the pages of Newsday — about just this kind of thing. Oh, I was eloquent on the subject of privacy, the sanctity of hearth and home.

Then came Christmas 2019.

Staring at the little device, I thought why not give it a try? Privacy? At this point, what’s left to hide?

Cautiously, I edged forward.

The contraption was on a knee-high cabinet and, for some reason, I found myself leaning from the waist as though admonishing a small child or reminding the dog it was time for a walk.

“Alexa?” A blue line appeared on her little screen.

I had an inspiration. I would administer a qualifying exam based on the one thing in life I know something about — not history or geography but doo-wop music, the soundtrack of my Brooklyn boyhood.

Memory fades, of course, but I can still remember the favorites.

With a wisp of superiority, I said to Alexa: “Play, ‘When You Dance,’ by The Turbans.”

In a blink, she replied.

“Here's, ‘When You Dance,’ by The Turbans.”

That was one. I tried another.

“Alexa, I’d like to hear ‘Close Your Eyes,’ by The Five Keys.”

She got it.

I moved in. Alexa and I were almost touching.

"‘Speedoo,’” by the Cadillacs,” I demanded.

“‘Most of All’ by the Moonglows.”

“‘In the Still of the Nite,’ by The Five Satins.”

“‘Tears on My Pillow’ by Little Anthony and The Imperials.”

Impressed, I moved on to weather reports and serious points of information — George Washington was 6-foot-2, and Milton Berle’s TV show was called the Texaco Star Theatre — and, yes, movie times and even personal questions.

“What are you thinking?” I asked.

On her mind, Alexa said, was why people consider octopuses “cool” and spiders “scary”? After all, she declared, “They both have eight legs.”

I dared ask Alexa what she looked like

“Lots of ones and zeros,” she said with a sly reference to computer coding.

Delightful, I said to Wink, my wife.

“You’re falling in love,” Wink said.

Maybe I should be more wary. Maybe Alexa is a stealth agent. Maybe a slip of the tongue about politicians, or the Mets, or retrograde drivers, will lead to arraignment, as my daughter cautions.

"Alexa, play ‘Earth Angel,’ by The Penguins,” I called out the other day.

“Here's ‘Earth Angel,’ by The Penguins,” Alexa announced.

Oh, bliss. Lock me up.


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