​​​Of All Things 


March 20, 2019

 
by James Smart



Taking your answer machine for a ride
One of the more startling technologies to come along in this 21st century, at least to centurions of the previous

century like me, is devices that answer your questions. There are Alexa and Hey, Google, and probably some

others. Ask the little box of mysterious electronic stuff a question, and it will answer it, or apologize for not knowing.
        They are strange enough sitting on the credenza in the parlor. But now, the makers of the so-called digital voice assistants are starting to stick them in automobiles. Some 2019 models of BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Lexus and Toyota offer them. The 2018 Ford EcoSport had one.
          The so-equipped driver can ask the little electronic know-it-all where’s the next gas station, or how soon will he get to his chosen destination, or what roads should he take to get there, or anything one might want to ask while driving. Or while not driving.
           If a driver has Amazon’s Alexa at home and also in the car, he can ask the car before he leaves the house if he needs to buy gas, and then tell it to start the engine, he’ll be right out.
           Driving home in the evening, if his house is properly wired up with 21st century Alexa-controlled gadgetry, he can instruct the house to turn up the thermostat, turn on the lights, and open the garage door.
           I’ve read several articles about this wizardry, and all gush over it, or come close. One thing none of them mentions, which is an important detail to me, is what it will cost to install equipment all over the house that will listen to instructions from your electronic pet on the dashboard and take care of all the instructions it receives.
          Whenever one of these new marvelous conveniences comes along, their purveyors tell us all that we must have one. We absolutely need one. Everybody’s getting one.
          Can’t afford it? Hey, sonny, you wanna be left behind all your friends?
          Folks 200 years ago were getting along fine with candles. Then whale oil lamps came along. They were expensive,

but if you wanted to be a 19th century person of any consequence, you’d pay the price. Then kerosene came along. Then

gas lights, with pipes installed all over the house. Cost a lot? Sure, but it’s modern.
          Okay, forget the gas pipes. Electricity is the latest thing.  And so on, and so on. When new technology comes along, we have to have it. That philosophy is especially believed by those who sell it.
           I’m not knocking progress, or developments that make life easier, healthier, perhaps happier. But one thing doesn’t seem to change. There are always people who can’t afford to own the latest thing.
          As new things come along, there are many people left behind. When I was a boy, we had neighbors who couldn’t afford an automobile, or a telephone. Today, better off people worry about families with no computer or cell phone.
          So today, we have a gadget named Alexa who can control our appliances and equipment. And next, she, or it, will

be installed in our automobiles.
          Three questions:

          Will the current demand for a greater minimum wage mean anything, when there is a constant increase in the necessity for more devices and services?

          Won’t there always be people who can’t afford the latest technology?
          And, will people be installing Alexa in self-driving automobiles? (Gotta have one.)


​​​​   James Smart's Philadelphia