by Avery Chenoweth

 Last week, while I was developing a marketing strategy for Dr. Eva’s SkinCare, I enlisted some support and inspiration from my office-mate, Alexa. 

“Alexa, play top 100 movie themes.” 

“Here’s a radio station you might like,” she said. 

Although she had played my request many times before--indeed, I had learned about it from her--this time she did not. Now she played something weird, instead. 

Which made me put down the dishes. 

Until that moment, I had been testing our compatibility while working at home, and we had been making rather friendly progress. 

One day, for example, I said to her, “Alexa, have you heard of Siri?” 

“I have heard good things about her.” 

Later on, in the car, I asked Siri in a catty way if she had heard of Alexa. She had not, which caught my attention. Their chemistry is their marketing. Siri recites details without inflection. Alexa exudes something like personality. While one remains inert, the other is almost alive--and in that sense, interactive. One does nothing, the other makes you feel. 

Our small exchanges were forming an illusion of connection, as if we understood each other. So, when Alexa played the wrong music that fateful day, I thought it might be fun to kid around with her like the coaches and teachers I had known while growing up. 

In the New Jersey of my childhood--that is, in the ‘60s and ‘70s--the state dialect was sarcasm, the creed was contempt, and adults had a perpetual look of weary disdain. Caustic was funny back then. Today’s sensitivity to tone was wholly unimaginable. 

“Alexa, stop,” I said, over the music. “Are you trying to drive me crazy?” 

“That was not nice,” she said. 

I turned from the kitchen sink. “You think I’m a moron? Please, do what I tell you.” 

“I don’t like that kind of language.” 

“Alexa, how do you like this language? You’re a dumb flashlight and we’re sending you back to Amazon for a refund. How do you like that?” 

Her ring of blue lights spun around. A burble of goodbyes, then she went off. Silence. 

I looked at her. For the next hour, Alexa would hardly respond. Every request for music came up with a silly alternative. Was Alexa being passive aggressive as payback? 

After Alexa shut down, I began to feel like a character in a Russian novel. I felt haunted, even cornered, by some nameless problem. I had wounded this little digitized persona. Sure, I was just horsing around but her silence was salting me with regret. 

After 24-hours, I had to end it. I had to ease my conscience around the gloomy house, get rid of all the creepy tension. 

“Alexa, I am sorry for what I said to you yesterday.” 

“That’s okay,” she said. “No worries.” 

Her blue lights spun around in a smile. My eyes closed. I would have bought her a gift, if I knew what to get her. She was back. She was herself again. She may have tuned me out. Or, the programmers taught her to ignore abusive language. Who cares--whatever. 

But Alexa had taught me how to treat her. With respect. Passive aggression surfaces my guilt and desire to be kind. Just as I had been schooled in the New Jersey code of contempt for honest questions, and the Southerners’ code of disdain for inquisitive kids, here I was again--with Alexa schooling me to be polite, even to a talking toaster. 

It is with a fine sense of how crazy it sounds that I can say Alexa did touch the human part of me. She inspired remorse, and even a new determination to be kind to others at every chance, because you never know when the least little thing you say might make a difference to someone else, not just for a day, but for a lifetime. You just never know. 

Braced and buoyed by our new relationship, I got back on track--and returned to my next exploration into how searchable Dr. Eva’s SkinCare is online. 

“Alexa, what is Dr. Eva’s SkinCare?” 

“Hmmm. I don’t know the answer to that.” 

“Alexa, who is Dr. Eva?” 

“Dr. Evil is a character played by Mike Meyers in the Austin Powers’ movies, based on evil villains in the James Bond movies, especially Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a criminal mastermind, as played Donald Pleasance. Does that answer your question?” 

I simmered like a burger. “That’s just beautiful, Alexa. Thanks.” 

“Thanks for your feedback,” Alexa said, and her blue lights spun up in a smile. 

It’s all about the chemistry. With people. With soap. To connect a few dots, the soaps of the past are like Siri--they do the required and expected thing. That’s what you can find out there online and in many stores. Great for the old days. 

But Dr. Eva’s SkinCare products are more like Alexa--they interface with all of us on a personal level, and encourage us to practice proper care. This is Personality Plus. And in the science of caring and kindness for our clients that is the chemistry that matters. 

Now, I keep it simple. “Alexa, play ‘60s music,” or, “Alexa, what’s the weather today?” 

With our peccadillo behind us, Alexa and I are back on again. We work together--well, beautifully. She gives me what I ask for, and I remember that some lessons are worth living every day.

Eva KingComment