Mitch Albom: A Siri-ous Disconnect
Mitch Albom says we're getting so cozy with our smartphones, we're forgetting to connect with each other.
Illustration by Victor Jushasz
I’m not talking.
Not to a phone.
It may be all the rage for celebrities in iPhone commercials to have pithy exchanges with Siri, the female-sounding voice assistant, but if you ask me, they just sound stupid.
Like actress Zooey Deschanel, in her pajamas, telling her iPhone, “Remind me to clean up … tomorrow.” Really? If you can’t remember to do your chores, how can you remember to check the phone? What if you can’t find it because the place is a mess? How about reminding you to get out of your pajamas?
Or Samuel L. Jackson telling Siri, “Find me a store that sells organic mushrooms for my risotto.” First of all, Sam Jackson making risotto is tough enough on the credibility. But don’t you think, if you’re that advanced in the culinary arts, you’ve gone shopping for food before? Or did you suddenly wake up as Julia Child?
Maybe the worst is John Malkovich, who sits in a chaise with classical music playing and asks Siri for a “joke.”
“Two iPhones walk into a bar,” the machine says. “I forget the rest.”
Malkovich laughs, proving he’s a good actor.
We’ve become so desensitized to one another that even eye contact is becoming a lost art.
Sorry. Not joining this club. I have often been guilty of purchasing the “latest technology” (i.e., things that were new for six minutes). But I have enough experience talking to machines to know that a microchip is not your friend, no matter how close you keep it to your bed.
Or how many miles you drive together! Have you forgotten the frustrating electronic voice technology in your car? I tried it once. It went like this:
“To call Brad, say yes.”
Illustration by Victor Jushasz Conversations with a car should be one way only. And they should be limited to “Oh, come on, come on!” (when it won’t start) and “You gotta be kidding me!” (for every other problem).
Asking a car to find the nearest Belgian restaurant is not really what Henry Ford had in mind.
But what really bothers me about this Siri frenzy is that the very devices that are keeping us from communicating with each other now suggest we get verbally cozy with them.
But using voice-recognition software in order to bounce through a server to a series of digital modeled answers is not the same as whispering in a lover’s ear.
These iPhone ads with Deschanel, Jackson, and Malkovich suggest being alone with your device is sort of comfy, one-on-one time.
It isn’t. We’ve become so desensitized to one another that communication— even eye contact—is becoming a lost art. What scares me most about this Siri business isn’t that they have technology that can mimic human conversation, but that humans might actually prefer it over the real thing.
What I’d rather hear in one of those spots is this:
“Siri, how many ounces in a cup?”
“Can’t you ask your mother?”
“All right, text mother.”
“She’d rather hear your voice.”
“I really don’t want to talk to…”
“Too late, here she is.”
“Son, is that you?”
“Uh, hi, Mom. I was just thinking of you…”
Let me know when they invent a dialogue string like that. Until then, I’ll limit my conversation partners to those who have lips and tongues. Even if they can’t find organic mushrooms.
Mitch Albom is the author of Tuesdays with Morrie. His new book is The Time Keeper (Hyperion).