“Alexa, what should I write my column about this week?”
No, I don’t have the new toy that you can see ubiquitously advertised on television, the Amazon Echo. (Good luck getting one, by the way. I see on Amazon that they’re out of stock until after Christmas.) These commercials are fairly humorous and show people in situations where they need information quickly.
According to the Web site, this device can sync with any smart unit you have in your home, including the thermostat, lights, alarms, etc., as long as they’re wifi-enabled. It will play music for you and answer questions you might have, similar to the Siri feature on many phones and tablets.
Google has answered the Echo with the Google Home unit, very similar in many ways. I’m not sure which one would be better in my home, but I’m also not in any hurry to own one or the other. Most of my home features cannot be controlled with wifi. My lights use a switch, my thermostat is on automatic, and my alarm system is my cat running around.
Some of the features look pretty cool when you see them advertised. The ability to order a pizza seems neat, but how often would I really do that? Is it that hard for me to pick up my phone and call Casey’s? We have finally arrived at the edge of the era of hands-free everything. You can dictate a letter or e-mail to your computer, fire off a text message from your phone without touching it, and now listen to the sound a whale makes just by asking your Google Home.
If you’re over 30, you likely remember having to look things up when you had a question. So many of us, ahem, fondly remember poring through encyclopedias to research a paper. If we were lucky, a recent issue of Time or Newsweek had a story that fit in with our paper. Now we’ve moved to training students how to find reliable Internet sources. Sure, you can Google anything you need to find, but is the information believable or did you find the site that talks about the pyramids in Mankato?
Don’t get me wrong; it’s awesome to be able to find anything you need literally at your fingertips. At least you don’t have to wait for someone else to get done with the volume of the encyclopedia that you also need to use. It’s just that it seems… too easy. We don’t have to work at finding answers anymore. Many of us remember looking through card catalogs to find where a book might be in the library. Now I can (and often do) go on the library’s Web site and request the book and find it waiting for me near the front desk.
How many times in the past did you find yourself sitting around with friends and ask, “Who was that actor who played that one guy…?” Usually, the name finally came to you just as you were falling asleep that night! Now, someone pulls out their smart phone or tablet and simply looks it up. And it’s amazing how vague you can be and still find the answer. Even the act of starting to type what you’re looking for in the Google bar, and the rest of the question will often pop up before you’re half done.
It’s really amazing, from a language point of view, how the word Google has gone from a brand name to a verb. We say we will Google something, and everyone knows what we’re talking about. I’m sure there are other search engines online, but even if you use a different one, you likely still use the vernacular. It’s become a little like using a Kleenex or a Saltine, words that have become generalized instead of the brand names they really are. I used the term soda cracker the other day and got strange looks from my kids until I said Saltine.
The media blitz on these devices has been impressive, and the lack of availability is a sign that many people have bought in to the next generation of technology. I’m sure I’ll have one someday, or something similar. I’m sure many things in my house will be connected to the Internet at some point. I’m certainly not a dinosaur when it comes to embracing new technology, but I do like to wait a while sometimes in order to let the tech work out many of the initial kinks.
I haven’t used an encyclopedia or card catalog in ages. I have used Wikipedia and other online resources often. It’s hard to go a couple of days without simply looking up an answer online. This is where we are right now, and we have to adjust to the plethora of information access we now have. We have to train our kids to continue to be discerning when it comes to what information to use when it pops up. And we might never have to search for that lost remote control again! “Alexa, please record the new episode of Sherlock debuting on New Year’s Day.”
A very merry Christmas to all of you! Thank you for your continued reading of my weekly musings and your support of our local paper! Safe travels, and I’ll see you here next week for my third annual “Best of” column, celebrating 2016!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is floccipend, which means to regard as worthless, as in, “The parents thought the new Google Home device was floccipend until they tried to answer a trivia contest on the radio.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!