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The Other Woman

| Opinion | January 16, 2020

By Harry Parmenter

There’s another woman in the house.  And my wife isn’t happy with her. At. All.

They just aren’t on the same wavelength—literally.  My wife asks her something and she responds coolly, a studied, indifferent monotone.  She is not a good listener. She gets things wrong. It could be a memory issue or it could be intentional.

Female conflict; it’s getting ugly early.

Trying to effect rapprochement between any couple, let alone the opposing personalities in this case, is a tall order.  Churchill, Kissinger, Kirkpatrick…I bet they’d all rather negotiate peace in the Middle East than referee this relationship.

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I myself have no problem with this new member of the household.  Of course, I usually just ask her to play “The Funhouse” on KHUG every Sunday afternoon, which she does without question.  Her crisp, polite timbre is comfortingly Stepford-like, giving me the warm, fuzzy feeling of being king of my castle, master of my own domain.

With my wife, however, it is war all the time.  She asks her to make a shopping list, then later goes to amend it but finds the list is wrong.  She asks her to set an alarm which fails to go off at the correct time. Frustrated, temperature rising, she asks what the h-e-double-toothpicks is wrong with her.  These inquiries fall on deaf ears, resulting in either silence, a pleasant but firm denial of responsibility or a referral to consult something somewhere else. Passive-aggressive, to say the least.

My wife seethes: Alexa is in the house.

The rise of the robots has crossed into my personal space and we are experiencing technical difficulties.  The most maddening flaw is robots don’t argue. When Alexa is put on the spot about a misstep (“Pickles were on that shopping list!”) she/it/whatever does not return fire, which we humans secretly crave.  I mean, let’s face it, a little conflict, a sharp volley of rebuke and a pair of raised voices let off steam, satisfying the inevitable pagan anger quotient. Nobody is Zen all the time. I bet even Gandhi got peeved if his dhoti popped open unexpectedly during a peace march.

Alexa cannot be rattled.  My wife can yell at her, just like I yell at the remote control, and both devices have the same placid, infuriating non-reaction.  When we lash out we NEED a response, or at least some pliant cowering. Alexa, unlike the mute remote, speaks and acts like a real person but without emotion, without retaliation.  Doubly infuriating.

Artificial intelligence has just begun to infiltrate our lives and by 2030 Alexa’s digital descendent will no doubt be able to reply with a tart, “buzz off.”  Robots will give us convenience and efficiency benefits galore, but I predict the short human fuse may get even shorter, and we will have to resort to what we do best: attack a loved one.

Meanwhile Alexa is here to stay unless someone brings the sledgehammer down.  And to think she was a Christmas present.

Another woman in the house; never a good idea.

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