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I followed Alexa’s prompts for a day and this is what I learned

As a smart home writer and editor, you can likely imagine the amount of smart technology I have throughout my home. I can hardly go a few feet without seeing some smart tech, whether it’s a smart plug, lights, kitchen appliances, air purifiers, security cameras, or home hubs — they’re all there to help a sister out. I have Google Home Nest and Amazon Echos and Dots throughout the house.

They can all be a bit intrusive and completely off the mark when watching TV. The Google Nest will say something totally off topic because of something it heard on TV. The Echo Show will also try to be helpful and offer up a recipe for a phrase it heard while I was watching Top Chef. FYI, Alexa, I do not want a recipe for clam chowder because you heard the phrase clambake.

All this got me thinking … what if I actually did all the things the Echo Show prompted me to do throughout the day. What would I learn?

Just how entertaining is Alexa?

Echo Show 5 playing music.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

While working, I placed the Echo Show in my office  and awaited my first prompt. Alexa wanted to know if I wanted to hear a joke about a superhero. I said, “Alexa, tell me a superhero joke.” The response, “What was Bruce Wayne’s favorite baby toy? The bat mobile.” I chuckled. I love corny, punny jokes. Toward the end of the day, she told me another one that was right up my alley, “Why did the turtle cross the road? Don’t know yet, he’s still crossing.” I like these kinds of jokes, but in reality, these are the only kind of jokes Alexa tells.

Later in the day, Alexa thought I might like to hear some music. Sure, why not? What you thinking, Alexa? The prompt showed me the country song Nobody to Blame. I played it but didn’t like it. All the other options throughout the afternoon were country music. I never play country music. It’s not on any of our music lists. I stopped the song halfway through, and Alexa still asked me to if I wanted to play other country songs throughout the day.

When that didn’t work, the Echo Show wanted to know if Alexa could be my new workout DJ. Sadly, Alexa, I don’t need a workout DJ as I use the MYX II Plus Fitness bike, and all of those workouts have a playlist. I wondered, what gives, Alexa?

Music was not Alexa’s only attempt to entertain me as Echo shared some Skills and videos, too. After trying the Magic Door Skill, a sort of choose-your-own-adventure game, and Dinosaur World (it’s exactly like it sounds), I wondered if Amazon thinks I’m an eight-year-0ld kid. Maybe my thinking wasn’t so far off the mark because later in the day, Echo suggested I watch The Boys.

Never having seen the show before, but knowing there’s a bunch of hype about it on Prime — and I did say I would do the things the Echo prompted, didn’t I? — I gave it a go. Sure enough, it’s a show about superheroes and how they deal with their popularity — reminiscent of the Marvel and DC Comics franchises, but really violent and gory. At first, I was a tad doubtful, but I watched it, and turns out I have a new show to watch. Will I stick with it? At least for a few episodes. Like the three trial chapters I afford to books I read, I give every show three episodes to get me hooked.

Not so newsworthy

June 23 was kind of a big news day, and Echo didn’t show me much of it. New gun safety legislation passed in the Senate, the January 6 hearings were happening, and it was the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Echo only showed me a story about the last item featuring Jill Biden.

What other news did I get throughout the day? Here’s a list:

  • Mathew Fitzpatrick won the U.S. Open.
  • The Food and Drug Administration approved Gadget Guard’s screen protector to block blue light. The company created filtering technology with the help of optometrists. Studies show that kids are twice as vulnerable as adults to damage from blue light.
  • Illinois is renaming the Asian Carp to help with its popularity. Apparently, they are an invasive species. The new name? Copi. The fish has a mild taste like tilapia, and the officials changing the name are hoping to make the fish more popular with diners. There’s been success with this tactic before.
  • Forty-eight Golfers are playing the LIV Golf Tour
  • There’s a heat advisory for my area.

Uninspiring food and shopping prompts

Basic coffee machine gets smart.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A fair amount of prompts revolved around food, and they didn’t change much throughout the day — even after I interacted with the options. The options were all over the map. Echo showed recipes for a vegan salsa verde chickpea bowl and an air sous vide steak with asparagus. Hmm … I’m not a fan of vegan food and I don’t have a sous vide machine.

I scrolled through the food options on the screen and found prepared foods from Whole Foods, healthy recipes, trending recipes, and nearby restaurants. None of these tickled my fancy, but it just told me it didn’t really know my food preferences at all.

Oddly, the only actual shopping prompt I got all day was about the best coffe maker. Now, I do know a thing or two about coffee makers, having reviewed them for years, so I was curious what Amazon — or rather Amazon reviewers — thought was the best. They showed me the most basic coffee makers on the market: A Black + Decker 12-cup coffee maker and a standard Mr. Coffee model. Amazon rated the Black + Decker better even though the Mr. Coffee had the same amount of stars and way more ratings. Of all the things it could have shown me to get me to buy something, why a basic coffee machine?

Helpful assistant or tattletale?

One feature I use and really like about Alexa is that it will remind me about upcoming appointments. The Echo didn’t disappoint, alerting me to meetings and planned activities for the next day. Then, it also told me things I didn’t necessarily want to know, like the last station I listened to was OPB and I played Jazz music on Pandora. The interesting thing is that we used the Google Nest to listen to OPB and jazz music.

So how did it know? I thought, is it eavesdropping on Google Nest? (We do like to pit the two assistants against each other to see what they’ll say.) Then, I realized our Pandora and iHeartRadio accounts are tied to our Amazon account. Once I figured out how it knew, I wondered why on earth would it tell me what someone else was listening to in the house.

What did I learn?

Well, in short, I learned that Alexa doesn’t really know me at all, like the clouds that Joni Mitchell sings about. Then I have to ask, “Well, whose fault is that?” On some level, I’m a bit to blame. I don’t spend the amount of time needed to teach her all about my every preference. On the other hand, Amazon does know what goods I buy, my Whole Foods shopping habits, and what I watch on Prime, so you’d think it would have a slightly better idea of how to tailor my experience. Case in point: The only sport I watch is Football — I’ve never even searched for anything remotely related to golf.

Did I enjoy learning about other things in the world? A little, but after awhile, I realized I  had no interest in what the Echo  showed me throughout the day. It’s going back into the kitchen where I can have it show me how to make certain recipes, the weather report, and if a package is arriving.

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Joni Blecher
Joni Blecher has been reviewing consumer tech products since before cell phones had color screens. She loves testing products…
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