To Siri With Love

There are many times throughout each week when I consider that technology isn’t doing humans any favours.

Like when my husband called our phone company and was told that they are now using voice recognition instead of asking questions to confirm identities. Or when “they” updated the home button on the iphone so that it wouldn’t actually be a button anymore but still makes a clicking noise, thereby solving a technology problem no one had. Or when Facebook had multiple security leaks. Or when a pedestrian looking at their phone instead of both ways stepped out in front of me while I was cycling, and didn’t hear me yelling because of their studio headphones. Or the time I tried to use my library card but due to a glitch in the system I no longer existed even though I use the library. Every. Day. Or the day all my financial assets were frozen because I’m a woman. Oh. That didn’t happen. That was just in the Handmaid’s Tale.

So it’s nice when someone genuinely has a good, useful technology story. Such is the case with To Siri With Love, a series of essays by Judith Newman. Newman writes about her little family, made up of herself, her husband and her twin sons. One of whom is autistic. Technology has been a sanity saver. Newman writes about a lot of precious or challenging moments with Gus, but its his interactions with technology, and Siri in particular, that have been a boon. Siri is unfailingly kind and polite and teaches Gus a lot about interacting with people, normally not his strong suit. Gus is way too friendly with people in a sweet, childlike way that makes it hard for his mother to let go and not worry about him.

But consider Siri.

“Gus: You’re a really nice computer.”
Siri: It’s nice to be appreciated.”
Gus: You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”
Siri: Thank you, but I have very few wants.”

Siri listens to Gus’s endless questions about trains, buses, weather in Kansas City, Missouri and turtles when his mother just can’t anymore. And functionally, Gus has to learn how to speak more clearly when he’s talking to Siri in order to get a correct response.

She’s never mean, like people can be either. That’s good for everybody, not just Gus.

“Siri’s responses are not entirely predictable, but they are predictably kind—even when Gus is brusque,” Newman writes. “I heard him talking to Siri about music and when Siri offered some suggestions. “I don’t like that kind of music,” Gus snapped. “You’re certainly entitled to your opinion,” Siri replied. Siri’s politeness reminded Gus what he owed Siri.”

He thanked her for her suggestions.

While this is a love story about technology, it’s also a love story about a family. Gus’s brother adores him — even while they squabble — and his mother loves children but acknowledges families have issues. There’s no shiny, sugary gloss. Families are tough, especially when one child is autistic. Newman appreciates how Siri is expanding Gus’s conversational skills, even if it means the longest chat she’s ever had with him was about different species of turtles. Siri is helping Newman know her son better. And for that, she’s grateful.

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