(after Grant Clauser1)
Though the newest version of the Echo is decent, you can get a better response to life if you use your own voice—i.e. the Personal Echo. The Personal Echo is in high demand because it offers the gift of someone else controlling your life, but doing it in a way that feels as if you are talking to yourself. And truly, what writer wouldn’t want that?
First you must give your Personal Echo a name—say something like Alexa or Siri. But these are not the kind of names I grew up with, so I’ve named mine Sotiroulla (Roulla for short) for its Yin side and Alexandros (a male name!) for its Yang side. I find that I mostly call my Personal Echo by its Yin diminutive.
Roulla can do things that I can’t do; for example, she can talk to my music system, speakers, and TV—using my voice—and my music system, speakers, and TV talk back to her. Sometimes I walk in on them talking and they suddenly stop. Needless to say, to hear my voice taking part in a conversation without me makes me feel paranoid in my own home.
Roulla used to flip on my lights before I came into my smarty-pants livingroom, but it weirded me out, so I asked her to stop. (Personally, I don’t think of turning on my own lights as a burden; instead I think of the walk to the lightswitch as a mini workout for my legs, and the flick a mini resistance training for my fingers.) But she then asked, with her free time, would I like her to turn on my Heartlight. My Heartlight! I hadn’t thought of that since Neil Diamond took it to the top of the charts in 1982.
I don’t know. Do I want my Personal Echo to turn on my Heartlight? I don’t think so. (Readers: if you have opinions on this Heartlight/Personal Echo dilemma, feel free to leave them below in a comment box below.)
Roulla has been useful, though. Because I have a smart-home, she’s come in handy for things like enabling me to control my shopping list from a distance. Instead of trying to remember to write half and half, coffee, sugar, etc., she automatically substitutes my choices with skimmed milk, decaf, Stevia. (Honestly, I hate Stevia, but I don’t have any good arguments, so Roulla wins every time. Then, to top things off, she schedules a visit to my GP for cholesterol and diabetes tests.) It feels like I’m being controlled and policed in my own home, by my own voice, but I know she’s just doing it for my own good. That said, should I ever want to walk through my smarty-pants home with the option of not touching anything, I can do so! Yes, I have the freedom to walk into a quiet room and say, Roulla, Put on “Eric B is President.” And she will. Roulla, ignite that Lava lamp. And she will. Roulla, sweetheart, who is the most urgent poet in 2018? And she will say, Don’t be so reductionist, Elena. Art is not about top ten lists and pitting one poet against another. Oh, Roulla is so smart; with her as my Personal Echo, she makes my home even smarter.
Also, I don’t waste her time by asking her simple things—things I should have learnt by now—like how many grams are in an ounce? No, I ask her things like, how many drafts of this story do I need to write before it is perfect? What do you think she said on the day that I asked this question? She said, In art, Elena, there is no such thing as perfection. There is no “done.” There are only “deadlines.” Keep writing until you feel like every word is where it should be, then don’t look at it again, otherwise you will see another word that needs changing. Like I said, I don’t argue with Roulla because my smarter, wiser, super-sexy Personal Echo always wins.
If you are still reading this and feel like killing yourself because of your feelings of inadequacy, don’t! Please know that Alexa/ndros, Siri, and even Sotiroulla have their limitations. Let me mention a couple: The first is one sad moment in a relatively recent Elena/Roulla exchange, when I asked my Personal Echo, Did Walt Whitman write some of his own book reviews? Roulla responded with, Who is Walt Whitman? I said, What! She said, Pardon. I sputtered out something that she did not understand. She said, Please repeat your question. I said, Nevermind, and took refuge in Google. (Google’s response was: Yes, he penned a few.2) The second example of my Personal Echo coming up short was in the following exchange:
Me: Roulla, do you know my number one burning question?
Me: It is: Has a poet ever become President of her own country?
PE: Léopold Sédar Senghor and Václav Havel.
Me: I said “her,” not “him.”
PE: Her is a pronoun used as the object of a verb or preposition to refer to a female person or animal previously mentioned or easily identified. For example, “She knew I wanted her to give me the right answer.”
So this exchange happened a few times—back and forth, back and forth—and Roulla just could not get past the pronoun problem. So yes, she does not have all the answers. But she is super-sexy, wise, and smart about 90% of the time.
And finally, the information that you’ve been waiting for: If you too were to purchase your own Personal Echo, would it be possible for s/he/they/it to spy on you? In short, yes . . . Like any website or browser, Roulla collects information about how I interact with her. She knows what music I listen to, what food I put on my shopping list, and what smart-home products I have connected to my heartlight, all based on what I told her to do. She did promise me, though, that she would not use this information to market more products, poets, playwrights, etc., because she said I already had a strong control of my literary preferences. In fact, using Roulla has not resulted in more direct marketing from psychics who can predict winning lottery numbers or universities that offer sabbaticals. Instead, on good days, it simply feels like I’m living with my twin, who happens to be a more dedicated writer than I am. And on bad days, her omniscient presence makes me feel like my Personal Echo will report me to the Writing Police for not having spent enough time at my desk. Not today, though. I’ve written this. She’s read it. Asked me to rewrite it a couple of times. Then given me her seal of approval.
Still, some people may worry that trusting your desires, your dreams (and, if you’re lucky enough to have them) your savings to a cloud-enabled voice assistant may be taking too big a risk. To some extent it is, but there is always an element of risk, when you trust your desires to strangers. But, as a writer, I’m used to it. Without risk, it is unlikely that I would realize my dream of reaching into people’s hearts with my words.