My wife was not happy when I ordered Alexa and set her up in our living room without consulting her. She takes a sceptical stance vis-à-vis the digital world. I admit I could have asked her in advance, but I would have known the answer. I managed to calm her by telling her that I had got Alexa on sale for only EUR 64.99.
The progress of Amazon’s speech recognition software is really remarkable. It can answer questions about the weather, football results, or general knowledge without a problem. We use the smart speaker primarily to listen to radio or to play music. All very easy.
It is true that the computer is listening in 24/7. Good luck to those who have to go through our tapes and analyse them. Of course, it is a bit eerie to be running a bath and Alexa suddenly offers a playlist called “relaxing bath” without being prompted. But we also have a lot of fun with it and laugh a lot whenever it puts dubious products on our shopping list; after all, Alexa does not understand everything. Our three-year-old daughter already tells Alexa to play Pippi Longstocking.
Free is not for free – a reality in today’s digital world
These functions are freely available. Much like internet searches, friend adds on facebook, uploading photos or videos; all of that is free. We can connect to friends across the Atlantic Ocean and participate in their social life. We celebrate birthdays with them and send them our best wishes. I like that, because I enjoy the back and forth with my family in Brazil and in Germany. Back in the days, it was the telephone or a letter. Today, it is WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
I know that whatever is offered is not really free of charge. In the background, the digital service providers collect lots of data about me and use them for their marketing and sales efforts. Is that bad per se? Earlier this year, I started playing golf again, the first time in five years. I was looking for a new putter, and as a result, I now keep getting offers for new golf clubs, or advice on how to improve my game. I like that.
The same is true for music. I am fond of classic rock and appreciate the fact that Spotify creates a “mixed tape” tailor made for me every week. I enjoy the lack of Helene Fischer or Dieter Bohlen. It is an advantage for me that I effortlessly get to listen to new songs that are in line with my taste.
To me, the benefits of free access to digital services outweigh the disadvantages. If you are afraid of Big Data, you can log out of the digital world or perhaps switch to paid services where (maybe) no data are sold on to third parties without the user’s consent. Facebook is said to be working on a paid version. I am curious to see how much users will be willing to pay for the ad-free Facebook package and how many will choose to continue accepting customised commercials in return for free access.
Prognoses are no reliable indicator for future performance.