The World at My Fingertips…

by Barb who became a grandmother for the third time on Saturday

Lately, when I turn on Netflix, it’s been nagging me. “Next time, try using your voice remote to say ‘Netflix.'”

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to use my voice remote. I don’t want to say, “Netflix.” I am perfectly happy to tab around until I locate the Netflix logo on their app and then press the select button on my remote. In fact, I prefer it.

I don’t want to talk to my computer. Or my iPad. Or even my iPhone, more than is absolutely necessary. If I have a question I’ll type it into a search engine, thanks. And if not talking to my phone means I can’t text you while I’m driving, you can wait. The odds of you texting me something so important I have to respond immediately are infinitesimal.

I don’t want my devices talking to me, either. Nothing annoys me more than when I’m using technology to accomplish some task and suddenly a video ad starts running or music comes blasting at me. I keep the sound off on every device I own most of the time, but once in a while I turn it on to actually listen to something I want to hear and then forget to turn it off. I always regret it. I miss a lot of stuff with the sound turned off, like the notification about your all-important text, but I can’t say I’m sorry.

I don’t want my devices doing anything or remembering anything or reminding me of stuff. I have real people in my life to nag me, and frankly, that is plenty. I don’t need inanimate objects pitching in. I spend my days with a roomful of imaginary people for a reason. Leave me alone.

My husband has rigged up something at our house. I can’t even tell you if it’s Alexa or Siri or what. Honestly, that’s how little I interact with it. But every once in awhile, whoever she is will announce she’s turning off the TV. And then she does. I don’t know if she’s responding to something one of the characters in the TV show has said, or if she’d decided we can’t handle whatever we’re watching. Or that maybe that we should go outside and get some fresh air. I never find it helpful.

I realize that up to this point, this post has sounded like the rantings of a classic crankly old person. “Oh for the good old days of rotary dial phones and typewriters.” But I have no interest in going back there. I now understand that I spent most of my adulthood in what was a golden age for me. The age of the keyboard.

In junior high I flunked typing twice. Proto-feminist that I was, with the sophistication of a thirteen-year-old, I reasoned that if I couldn’t type, I would never end up being some man’s secretary. (“Why would she be worried about that?” younger readers are wondering. Good. Progress.) Of course, I also have the fine motor skills of a puppy playing the piano, so while I deliberately threw the class, I undoubtedly wouldn’t have done well even if I’d tried.

And then I spent the rest of my life typing. SO IRONIC. And I’m still terrible at it. And slow. But I’ve come to understand it’s the slowness I value. I LOVE having those keystrokes between me and the world. They provide just enough distance to make me happy and comfortable. Just enough delay so I can absorb and process. My keyboard is the the transformer that converts my fast-moving mind to the speed of my slow-moving fingers. Which is a better speed for me to handle to world and for the world to handle me.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to shut the world out. I just want it on a permanent sixty-second delay.

What about you readers? Talking to your devices — mega-convenience or uncomfortable interaction?

57 Thoughts

  1. Congratulations, Barbara. I saw the pictures on Facebook. Silvie Marie is gorgeous.

    A few years ago I broke my wrist and invested in Dragon Naturally Speaking to keep writing. At first – after we got over the learning curve – I thought is was fabulous. Then I realized that my spoken creative process and my typed creative process are two different animals, and I like the typed one best. Dragon was great for when I needed it, but I shelved it as quickly as possible.

    As for my tech talking to me? No thank you – it strikes the same chord as robocalls. I do use, and appreciate, hands free calling in the car, but that’s as far as I want to, or need to go.

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  2. I completely agree. I HATE when devices talk to me, and I even have the radio in my car turned off. Who can think with all the yammering and interference in my life. It wouldn’t be so bad if they got it right, but it’s always something I don’t want to do or that I know how to do but choose not to. I despise it when I go to any site with a question and they say watch our YouTube video for the answer. Nope.
    And funny- I did the same thing in high school with typing class. Worked perfectly. I can’t type, so I Never had to be a secretary, although one boss said”you’d be so much more valuable if you learned to type.” At the time, I was production manager for a multimillion dollar product line, but he thought I should want to a secretary. So progress indeed.

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  3. Congrats, Grandma!

    I confess I’ve started doing the “Hey, Google” thing to add stuff to my grocery list or set an alarm for one hour from now or remind me to do something when I get home. But the reminders aren’t spoken aloud and I still have to read from my grocery list at the store.

    I do hate when I’m scrolling through a device and a video starts blaring. I always tell it “SHUT UP” as I fumble for the volume button.

    Oh, and I hated typing too! I’m fairly fast though…only because I’m really fast on the delete and backspace key to fix all my typos. Without those (remember White Out and the erase ribbons?) it would take me decades to produce one book!

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  4. A third young blessing in your life! I bet Viola is beside herself.

    I’m with you, my friend, on the noise bit (well, we ARE only 2-3 months apart in age). I would never want an Alexa-type device listening at all times. That’s way too freaky. Where I do appreciate voice recognition is for texting and emailing on my phone. I am not a “thumber” and the single finger poke-typing drives me nuts. So I dictate, and maybe have a to fix a word or a name or two. It’s a far better experience.

    I might be heading into thumb surgery this summer and thought about getting Dragon. But I’m pretty sure my experience will be like Kait’s – and the way I’m doing things now is working so well for me, why throw a wrench in it?

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  5. I do not need to talk to my devices. And I definitely don’t want them talking back to me.

    And I am a typically cranky old person. Until 3 years ago, I didn’t even text. People would say to me, “Did you get my text?” and I’d say “No, I don’t have texting on my phone”. After telling me that I should join the 21st century, I’d respond by telling them that they’d made the mistake of thinking I wanted to talk to them.

    I don’t even use a smartphone. I use a flip phone. It makes and takes phone calls (and now texts), but I keep telling people that I don’t need to “upgrade” because I don’t need a phone capable of running the nuclear defense system.

    I imagine it will only get worse for me as technology moves ever forward and humanity creeps towards being upgraded into Cybermen.

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  6. LOL-ed at the ironic bit. 🙂 Thank you for starting my day off with a laugh.

    I love my computer but share your contempt for things that talk to me. With the possible exception of the GPS voice, without which I would be (quite literally) lost.

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    1. We haven’t been able to avoid that and have had the same experience as everyone else of ads showing up just after we’ve been discussing something. I don’t know who or what is listening. My money is on the cable box, but it is creepy.

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  7. I’m with you 100%. and that doesn’t even take in to account the data allowance required to run those pernicious gadgets!

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  8. Congrats, Grandma!

    I do occasionally use Siri -but it’s usually, “Siri, set a timer for…” because I’m busy doing something else and it’s just faster. I don’t generally do voice-to-text. I had voice recognition in general because it’s so…patchy in accuracy so while I do use hands-free in the car, I have the numbers I most call set up as favorites so it’s a one-button push.

    I hate having videos auto-play for me, but I don’t mind watching a video when I *choose* to watch it. Generally I scroll pages with the sound off.

    The exception to all this is GPS directions. I prefer those spoken to me and I’m very grateful for it. It’s saved me a couple of times.

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  9. Agree with you wholeheartedly. I, too, have the volume on computer turned off. Texting is for important stuff and not “Hey, what you doing?” Folks think I’m electronically challenged and I am to a certain degree but I keep my flip phone because it fits in my pocket so it’s never lost and it makes and receives call just fine. Personally, I think the world would be a better place with a lot less technology back when folks talked, ate a meal uninterrupted, and could take a drive or a walk without someone trying to keep up with them or having to post what you are doing. Granted some technology is great. I enjoy being able to nuke something fast and easy as much as the next person or being able to search for an answer with a few words typed into google. Also glad that young women do have a lot more choices than secretary or school teacher. Both good and respectable occupations and I don’t mean to take anything from them, but choices are awesome. I’ve wondered, if given more choices, how my life might have turned out. Then again, I wouldn’t trade where I’m at now for anything even with the bumps, bruises and dictation or two. 🙂
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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  10. Love this, Barb! I haven’t turned on the voice activated remote and I turned Siri off on my phone. Okay, I kind of miss Siri but I didn’t want her listening all the time. I also hate when I go to a news story and I can’t read it — it’s a video. Cranky old woman here.

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  11. Hi Barb. Congratulations on the new grandchild! They are the best!

    I’m with you regarding technology. I don’t want it talking to me unless I request it. I have never once asked Siri for anything yet she randomly turns on frequently. I keep the volume off or so low it might as well be off on my iPad, my laptop, my Kindle – everything. Except on those rare occasions when I actually instigate it myself – a UTube video that momentarily catches my interest. I do use Alexa, simply because I work better if music is playing in the background.

    I could possibly be another cranky old woman. 🙂

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  12. Barb, you make me laugh. I have a different take on the voice enabled gadgets. My folks, my dad especially, kept up with technology until a short time ago. Now it overwhelms. But we got them a nice Alexa with good sound, and they love it. They can just tell her to play “Old Cape Cod” and they don’t have to deal with CDs. I was able to connect my Amazon account to their TV, so they can just tell the remote to play something and it happens. When there were different buttons to access it, it didn’t happen. So I do think that the quality of life has been raised for them thanks to voice activation.

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  13. Huge congratulations on the new grandbaby, Barbara. She’s so cute. I was cracking up as I listened over wireless headphones to my computer reading your blog piece. Of course, I still like to do my own reading but I had the headphones on because I’m about to start writing. I found that if I hear someone/something reading my work I catch things I might otherwise miss. As for typing, I always say that it’s the only thing that I learned in high school that I ever used.

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    1. Lot’s of people swear by the typing they learned in high school. I should have been less stubborn. Lots of people swear by reading their work out loud, but I can’t bear it. I hear every word in my head anyway.

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  14. Congratulations on the addition to the family. She’s gorgeous!

    I had pondered getting Alexa until I was sitting in my cousin’s house and Alexa answered a question directed at dear cuz. I jumped in my chair, because I didn’t know it was behind me. Cuz decided to disconnect it, because he had not realized it listened allllll the time.

    I don’t need devices listening or talking to me unless it’s GPS in my car in a strange neck of the woods. Creepy, indeed. So, Siri has been disconnected and I never bought Alexa. I recently discovered that the individual wi-fi signals in the neighborhood overlap each other, so our cellphone conversations and TV transmissions can be heard in other homes. We’re stepping back into the old phone party-lines, while thinking we are secure. Encroaching on the cyborg universe.

    I am slowly tapping away, happy that I failed high school typing as well, but delighted that the internet and computers exist. I just wish they didn’t care quite so much what I’m up to.

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  15. Congrats, Barb, on grandchild #3!

    I love being able to type well and much prefer my computer keyboard to trying to type on my iPad or iPhone. I seldom use Siri, and I wouldn’t have Alexa (or her friends) in my house on a bet. I don’t want anyone (even a computer) listening to me all the time. I don’t have a “smart” toaster, coffee maker, microwave, refrigerator or any other such devices. I do use GPS when I’m in unfamiliar territory, so I fit in with group of cranky old ladies.

    I try to stay reasonably current with technology, but there is far more that I don’t know than I even WANT to know. Oh, and I hate being talked to my machines!

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  16. Congratulations! Aren’t grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) wonderful?

    You said it all – except that my goal in high school was to become a secretary. A few years into that and I woke up. My mother bought us a typewriter and made us learn to type so my sister and I could have office jobs rather than waitress like she had always done. That was progress I guess.

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      1. Exactly. One I realized that yes, as a matter of fact I was as smart as those guys and that I could BE the boss my career goals changed.

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  17. I don’t talk to my phone either. And I don’t have any other device I can talk to.

    And if your website starts talking to me without me asking for it to, I am less likely to visit you in the future. That includes music as well.

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  18. I agree! I have Siri on my phone but never use it. I keep the volume on my iPad turned down — I only turn it up if I want to watch a video. I sometimes visit family members that use Alexia. I feel like so self-conscious saying, “Alexia, bedroom lights off” when I leave a room. I was extremely shy growing up. I’m better now but I really don’t want any device talking or listening to me.

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  19. First, congratulations on the new grand-baby…. bet that is one voice you will love hearing!

    There was a time I thought I could only write in long hand, but somehow that evolved into writing on a stand alone computer with show music in the background which pivoted into a laptop (still with show music). I swore I’d never get into Siri, but my newest car has a touch pad. it is just as easy to give a vocal command as it is to hit a million words….. Of course, sometimes I end up in the middle of a parking lot. My point….I’m learning to go with the flow (btw, I used Dragon a few years ago at the office when I broke my wrist…it had trouble learning my voice, so I had some very interesting sentences to correct. Like others, while it worked, it didn’t have the same flow as when I type or say something aloud and then translate it ot my fingertips. Bottomline …. I’m learning; I’m adapting; and I’d rather play with a new grandchild.

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    1. So interesting. I can’t write with music on. I can’t block out the lyrics or the rhythms. My parents had a “thing” going for years because my mother could read/work with the TV on in the background and my father currently. My father could read/work (in fact preferred to) with music on in the background and my mother couldn’t. I prefer silence and maybe a little environmental noise–street noise, etc.

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  20. I am completely with you on not learning how to type when young. No one could turn me into a secretary. Actually I regret it, because I am a lousy typist even after all this book writing. And yes, when truly stuck, I turn to pencil and paper to free-associate my way out. And I refuse to converse with gadgets. I know how useful a GPS can be – it has guided us through some tricky moments – but I do wish she’d stop interrupting car conversations! Yes, crabby old lady here. My tech-enthused family claims I’d write with a quill pen if I could . That is a lie.

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    1. LOL. The different voices on our Waze app make different amounts of contents in differrent levels of detail, which I find kind of fascinating. Mine is currently set to “Cookie Monster.”

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  21. While I have a computer, smart phone, and a Nook, I don’t like being pushed to use them for everything. I don’t have any of the talking things like Alexa or Siri but did finally figure out how to get my phone to talk me through directions. The time when I could just print directions and read them while I drove has passed. I have to pick the paper up and hold it close to me to read it. I like my smart phone for the camera, reading e-mails, texting, and sometimes looking things up on the Internet. My friend was just in Laos visiting her family and texted me pictures and texts on WhatApp. Pretty neat. And a big help to her. I remember when I first met her, she wrote letters to her family and only occasionally called because it was so expensive.

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  22. Congrats on the third grand-baby.

    I got rid of Alexa and the Google person. I tend to keep my cell phone in my bag. I still have a landline and that is the number I give out. I’m not a phone person.

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  23. Warmest congratulations to you and Bill! So exciting! I am not a fan of voice activated devices except for GPS. For one thing, it takes a while for software to adjust to your voice. And yes, they’re totally listening. Folks who worry about the US Government tracking us are worried about the wrong set of folks. Corporate America is tracking what we are saying and doing much more carefully. (Wouldn’t make the same assumption for a foreign government-especially China.) As for typing, my high school math teacher told us we were going to need keyboard skills because of computers, so I took business typing. Best I could do got me a “C” which dropped me in class rankings. But it was the most useful course I took in high school.

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    1. Another vote for “most useful course in high school.” I know there is no privacy. I only hope everyone who is watching, including the algorithms and robots, is bored to death.

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  24. I personally think a device talking to me is creepy. I have a fire stick and , yes, use it manually. I remember auditing a typing class in high school – I don’t know why, I guess I thought it would be a useful skill. To this day, I am a slow typer, plodding along as I attempt to create messages that have as few typos as possible. I must have fixed at least 4 in this post! And that’s just fine with me.

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  25. My son is in computer security and doesn’t have any voice activated devices in his house. I bought an Amazon Fire Stick and a Kindle 10 and they both had Alexa. I bought them from QVC. The tech guy selling them gave clear directions on how to turn Alexa off, if you didn’t want it. I had to do it on the Kindle twice before it really took. I don’t want people listening in on me. I also have the camera at the top of my computer covered and always disable the wifi on my gadgets unless I want to use them, Then I use them and turn it off again when I;m done. My personal feeling is a quote from Heller in Catch 22. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

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