regular-article-logo Friday, 09 June 2023

Alexa! Why do we keep buying you?

People tell how the technology fits into their lives, or doesn’t

Hanna Ingber Published 13.02.23, 04:49 AM


When Amazon released Alexa in 2014, the company had big dreams for the technology. The voice assistant, they suggested, could succeed smartphones as the next essential consumer interface.

Alexa, which was embedded in Amazon’s voice-activated Echo smart speakers, soon became one of the most popular voice assistants, alongside Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant.


A decade on, questions have arisen about the utility of voice assistants, including how often people use Alexa to shop for items or buy subscriptions. In November, Amazon began corporate layoffs, including in the division that makes Alexa and the Echo speakers.

We decided to ask readers how they use and interact with Alexa and how the technology fits into their lives.

A partner for singles

Susan Jackson lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington, US. She has two Alexa-enabled devices.

I am 73, live alone, and use Alexa every day to tell me the weather, turn on the lights, tell me the time in foreign countries so I can call people there, and for cooking. Lots of cooking problems are solved by Alexa. She helps me cut down recipes, tells me how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon.

If I met someone, he or she would have to fit into my life. They would have to love my dogs, my Alexa, my drawing, my friends... or they can go to hell!

An arbiter in debates

David Webster lives in Cornwall, England, with his wife and their three children. He said they use their Alexa devices multiple times a day.

We would be lost without it. If the oven is on, there’s at least one Alexa timer going. If Janine, my wife, is cooking something, many of her recipes are from American cookbooks, and she will need to convert them to the metric system. I could do it on the phone. But I’ve got wet hands, or my wife has flour on her hands. We’re opening the oven. I don’t want to touch another device — talking to it is so convenient.

If we are having a discussion, and she’s in the next room, just shout out “Alexa…”

For dementia patients

Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, US. She does not use Alexa in her own home but has two devices with screens in her mother’s apartment. She and her sister use the Alexa app on their phones to manage their mother’s devices remotely.

Alexa allows us to keep our mother safe, give her companionship, make her days brighter with music... It is helping us keep her out of a nursing home.

We primarily use the app to make “Announcements”: These are phrases we type into the app that the machine then says aloud. We use this feature in the moment and also on a repeat schedule. The Echo device also shows the announcement text on the screen, so my mother can read it. Examples are little announcements about the weather and such that keep her company.

Using the app’s “Drop In” feature and our iPhone cameras, we can appear on one of her Echo devices and initiate a call without her having to do anything on her end. We’ll use this if she’s left the phone off the hook or if we feel it’s necessary or helpful for her to see us.

We also use the “Routines” feature to control the lights in her apartment. Keeping her home well lit is important to managing her confusion and avoiding napping during the day.

Clever life hacks

Michael Redmond lives in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, US, with his husband. They have seven Alexa devices and three Google smart devices.

We have a Wyze camera trained on the sump pump in our crawl space, whose feed we display on an Alexa Show. It’s a pain to physically go into the basement to check the pump. We don’t use it to shop on Amazon. It’s too hard to compare prices using the device. We take an Alexa Dot with us when we travel.

It’s too risky

Aaron Lawless lives in Springfield, Virginia, with his wife and two children.

In an era of massive hacks and data breaches, having an always-listening device connected to the Internet is not worth the risk. My wife is with me on not wanting an Alexa, but my 10-year-old has mentioned it might be fun to have it. He hears his friends talk about having Alexa, and he’s sold on the coolness of it. Mom and I are in agreement that it’s not happening, though.

And not even helpful

Heather Keever lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and 15-year-old son.

It is very important to keep Alexa, Echo, etc., devices out of our family. We’ve returned ones “gifted” to us; we don’t want them. I tried my brother’s Alexa when we were visiting him to set an oven timer. It worked, but setting the actual timer on the oven worked just as well.

I’m not willing to give up my privacy for things I can easily do without.

New York Times News Service

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