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Do What I Say

There is now to be a version of Alexa especially for kids. Amazon has just released the Echo Dot Kids Edition, which is apparently more able to decipher the way that young children speak.

For some time now I’ve been pondering the effect that getting used to barking orders at our devices will have on us. 

“Siri, what’s the weather like in Edinburgh?” 

“Alexa, phone Dad.”

On the one hand, I fear I may be in danger of archetypal older generation concern at new technological developments, following in the footsteps of fears over television, radio and the printing press. On the other, I can’t help but worry that if we all get used to dropping the polite niceties that make human conversation run smoothly, we might lose their pleasures forever.

This development is even more profound for our children. It’s going to be a tricky tightrope for us to walk; expecting our children to use ‘please' and ‘thank you’ when speaking with other humans, and yet allowing them to witness us issuing orders without using the good manners we demand of them. Just because it’s a machine, if it converses like a human, should it make any difference how we address it?

The new child’s version of Alexa will apparently offer kudos for saying ‘please’, responding, “Thank you for asking so nicely.” But is this enough?  Maybe, as long as the adults in any child’s life are modelling the kind of behaviour they want to see in future generations.

I’m no luddite, I understand how motivating engaging with new technology can be for children, and I’m all for utilising digital progress to increase a child’s ability to learn independently. I also have faith in kid’s smarts. They can distinguish between different situations and adjust their behaviour accordingly. It’s only when we adults start setting bad examples that the messages might become blurred.

So just keep a check on yourself, and make sure you’re giving sufficient explanations to the children in your life - there’s a difference between commanding an electronic pod in the corner to do your bidding, and asking something of one of your fellow human beings.