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My Exes, My Echo, and Me

A woman leans toward an Amazon Echo device.
Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

“Alexa, stop” is the first thing I say most mornings. Actually, that’s a lie. Usually, it’s more like “Alexa, snooze.” Next, I drag myself into my kitchen and put on a kettle. “Alexa, set a timer for four minutes,” I say while pouring boiling water into my French press. “Alexa, what’s the weather,” I’ll ask later while staring at my closet trying to figure out which one of my coats — answer: none of them — is appropriate for the 30-degree temperature spread Alexa will inevitably tell me to expect that day in New York.

I love my little DJ/alarm clock/kitchen timer/meteorologist. It’s convenient. It was cheap. It can play the original Broadway cast recording of Parade on command. And the security risks don’t stress me out any more or less than those of any other internet-enabled device I use in my day-to-day life. It has also, historically, driven the people closest to me absolutely nuts. So I asked two ex-girlfriends — who were kind enough to respond to my slightly deranged texts and Gchats — to tell me just what was so terrible about dating, as one put it, “an Echo-head.” I also asked a roommate from a few years ago if she had any memories of living with me and my Echo Dot. Mostly, she said she remembered me asking Alexa to play Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” “approximately 2 trillion times.” (An incredible own on her part, really.)

Why did you hate my Echo Dot so much?

Tess (ex-girlfriend): I think why I’m so anti-Alexa is because it’s suddenly like someone else is in the room whom you didn’t realize or expect to be there, and they’re listening and are intelligent. It’s like Alexa is a creepy spy in the corner waiting to be summoned.

Sam (ex-girlfriend): I just don’t love the idea of talking to a device! It’s kind of creepy to me. You can just take out your phone and check the weather app or look out your window to see if it’s raining.

Tess: Also, it felt like you knew she was there, but I didn’t always remember, so it would take me by surprise when you called her.

Sam: You don’t have a roommate, so maybe it’s also nice, or at a minimum, not weird to talk to it. If I talked to mine, my roommates would think I was crazy and talking to myself. We are not, generally speaking, a digital-voice-assistant household.

Tess: I’ll also say that the more time I spent with you, the less weird it got, and after a while I didn’t mind or notice as much.

Did you have security concerns?

Tess: I totally recognize and am willing to admit it’s irrational [that I distrust Alexa but still use other internet-enabled devices]. Everything is monitoring my life! But it feels so much more tangible when you’re like, “Hey, Alexa,” and then she’s THERE. It feels a little Big Brother–y. I don’t trust Amazon not to be listening in on my/your life, and I didn’t like the idea of our convos being passively monitored.

Sam: For me, at least, there’s just a mental barrier with voice assistants. For some reason, I’m fine with Facebook and all related third parties mining my data, but as soon as I have to talk to a robot, I’m out. Obviously, it’s not rational.

Do you feel I talked differently when I would ask Alexa things?

Sam: Not to tone police, but you had a very specific uptalk when you talked to Alexa. I can hear it in my head now. Also, you talked at it loudly. VERY loudly.

Tess: You for sure have an Alexa voice. It’s like Madison voice, but crisper, slower, and more rhythmic.

Did it seem like Alexa had learned my voice but not yours?

Sam: I think my main annoyance was the fact that it didn’t listen to me when I tried to talk to it. Like, you would ask it about the weather or ask it to play a song or whatever else it does, and it would just do whatever you asked it to. Then one day, when you were on a run, I asked it to play a Rilo Kiley song, and it didn’t listen to me, so I asked it again, and it didn’t listen to me, so I just gave up on it.

Tess: Remember how it wouldn’t take my voice? But when I imitated your “Alexa voice” then it listened!

Would you ever consider getting your own Echo?

Sam: I do feel like I should add that after we broke up, I got an Echo, which I have only used to connect to my Spotify account to play music. I do not speak to it.

Tess: My boss gave me one as a gift. Safe to assume, it’s in the bottom-most drawer of my desk, never to be touched.

All names have been changed to protect the Alexa-hating innocent. Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

My Exes, My Echo, and Me