Never Alone: When Tech Talks Back

Tech talks back
Tech talks back
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My new cellphone has facial recognition. The people at AT&T set it up for me. I just pick up my phone and look at it and it lets me in. Even with my hat and my glasses on. I tried it with first one, then the other, then both, and it’s happy. Pretty neat. No more typing in my password. And I look pretty dashing, if I must say so myself.

On the other hand, this morning I went out and got a haircut and when I got home, it wouldn’t recognize me. It didn’t exactly say so, but it treated me as if I’d stolen my phone.   

Who do you think you are and where’s Dan?

I took off my hat and tried it. No luck. Took off my glasses. Same thing. My phone was in full “We’re going to help Dan” mode. “Attempt failed” came on the screen. And that was that.

I did get in the old-fashioned way, typing in the  code every time. But the whole time, I thought my phone was glaring at me.

Later in the day, I was driving home from work when my car went into rebellion mode. A  message came on my dashboard: “Take a break,” it said. Under the words was a drawing of a steamy-hot cup of coffee.

I’d been told that the car had such a message it could send like this. But it never had done so. The message goes on when you drive erratically. I thought I wan’t driving erratically. But the message persisted.

At that moment, I yawned. Well, maybe I am driving erratically, but not that erratically, I said to myself.

“Take a break,” the message repeated. There was no getting around it. And so I started looking for a place to pull over. At the time I was on the Montauk Highway heading east, just passing billionaire Ron Perelman’s house. It wouldn’t look good to just pull over, lean back there in the driver’s seat, and take a quick nap. People would think I’d died if I did that. Or worse. I’d have to find a spot where people might not think that.

What came up pretty quickly over the horizon was the CVS across from Red Horse Market. I’d get away with napping there. People would think my wife had been with me and was inside shopping. I’ve seen people waiting in cars like that there.

I found a spot way in the back. And so there I napped for a few minutes. Okay, for half an hour. And then, refreshed, after thinking I might need something at CVS and should go in but didn’t, I drove home.

Just before sunset I went out into my backyard and began shooting hoops. I have a rim and backboard attached to the front of the garage there. I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years. If I make a shot it’s 2 points for me, the big center for the Bridgehampton Killer Bees high school basketball team. If I miss a shot, it’s 2 points for the other team, which is Seton Hall, the college team in New Jersey.  First team to get to 80 wins. This is all going on in my head. I win some. I lose some. The crowd cheers for the Bees, boos Seton Hall. That’s the way it goes. 

But not this night.

Halfway through my game, which as it happens was a real dog fight, the new Apple Watch on my left wrist shook twice nervously. What was this? It was tied at 41. I stopped and looked. There was something on its little screen:

“It looks like you’ve taken a hard fall,” it said. “Are you all right?”

Beneath the message were three options to choose from:  

  1. Emergency. Get help.
  2. I’m OK.
  3. I didn’t fall.

Next to each of these options were little tiny boxes to tap. I steeled myself. One false move involving a 1/32 of an inch and screaming ambulances would be coming up my driveway with the paramedics leaping out. Lie down!!

I tapped option 3. And so nobody came. And I finished up.

Through this pandemic, my wife and I have been largely alone. We like it that way. I really don’t like these conversations with inanimate objects, but I guess there’s nothing I can do.

By the way, we did have Alexa for awhile. But, after one particular incident, we turned it off. We had people over who brought with them their dog named Alexa. Turned out there was a lot of jealousy and competition ending in a struggle between the two, which the dog won. Can’t have that. 

I just got an email announcing that our bank, Bank of America, wants me to deal with their virtual Financial Assistant. Named Erica. Could be trouble. I’ll ask Siri what the hell this is all about.    

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