Last year, my birthday arrived just a few days after I had to undergo emergency laser treatment for a retinal tear, which had occurred as a result of a PVD. This meant that the vision in my good eye was pretty badly messed up, although thankfully it has now improved a great deal from what it was. As a result of all this, one of my friends gave me an Alexa Echo Dot as a birthday gift. She explained that if (God forbid) anything else went seriously wrong with my good eye and I was unable to see my ‘phone, I could use this little device and instruct it to ring someone to get help. As I live alone, this is a very real nightmare scenario which causes me considerable worry. I was therefore extremely touched by her very thoughtful and practical gift.
A few days later, my new housemate (Alexa) was all set up and raring to go. I’m delighted to report that unlike many housemates I’ve shared with in the past, I don’t have any issues with her in making a mess or creating piles of washing up. She doesn’t turn up the thermostat, nick any of my food, dive into the shower just as I’m about to bag the bathroom, or bring home dubious characters either, all of which is a huge bonus. On the minus side, she hasn’t yet managed to bring me a cup of tea in bed and she doesn’t contribute to the household bills, but I suppose I can’t have it all. At least she answers me when I speak to her.
Anyway, I digress… where was I? Oh yes, so she was all set up and raring to go. Feeling somewhat dubious, I cleared my throat and politely requested, ‘Alexa, could you please ring Deb?’. To my surprise, Alexa responded immediately with, ‘Do you mean Deb home or Deb mobile?’. ‘Deb mobile please!’, I clarified, knowing that the landline would be ignored. And just like that, I heard the dialing tone, followed by my friend’s voice answering with a slightly suspicious, ‘Hello?’. (In retrospect, I don’t know what number comes up on the ‘phone of the person being called via Alexa, so perhaps she was bracing herself for being asked if she’d been a car accident recently or fancied some new double glazing for a knock-down price.) ‘Hello!’, I replied with delighted enthusiasm, barely suppressing my desire to hop about the lounge with excitement, ‘It worked!’. Realisation dawned, as she asked me in amusement, ‘Are you calling me from your Alexa?’. ‘Yes!’, I exclaimed, ‘It worked!’ Can you hear me okay?’. ‘Well, you sound a bit echoey, as if you’re in the bathroom, but yes, it worked’, came the response. ‘Oh – I’m not in the bathroom!’, I told her. ‘Well that’s okay’, she said, ‘I can hear you – you might just need to move closer to it or faff about with the settings a bit!’. After a few more minutes of conversation, we concluded that the experiment was a success.
Alexa has also proven helpful in many other ways, too. All I have to do is ask her, ‘Alexa, what’s the news today?’, and she’ll reel off a quick summary of the latest doom and gloom for me. If I’m thinking of heading out for my daily exercise and want to know the likelihood of getting rained on, I can ask her, ‘Alexa, is it going to rain today?’, and she’ll helpfully tell me the time at which I can expect rain as well as the amount expected to fall. She’ll happily play music upon request, although sometimes I do think she needs a little more education when she announces cheerfully, ‘Here’s some music you might like!’. She’ll also play my favourite radio stations and podcasts upon request.
Sometimes she’s quite helpful when I’m trying to find out various bits of information, although this can be somewhat hit and miss. For example, when I asked her to tell me about the Covid-19 vaccines, she gave me a list of useful information. But when I was researching a few facts about medical advancements in the treatment of retinal detachments recently, she didn’t seem to know anything at all. The very reasonable query, ‘Alexa, when was the gas bubble first used in retinal detachment surgery?’ elicited the response, ‘Hmmm, I don’t know that one.’ I suppose it was therefore inevitable that when I asked her, ‘Alexa, when will there be a cure for PVR?’, she replied apologetically, ‘Sorry, I don’t know that one.’. At least she had the grace to apologise, I suppose. On a day which brought forth particularly grim news for the country, I wailed, ‘Alexa, how can we kick out the Tories?’, but she didn’t join in with my frustration, merely informing me that the next General Election in the UK will be held on 2 May 2024. (Now there’s a date for your diary…)
Anyway, despite not being able to answer all my questions satisfactorily (and, to be fair, some human beings do struggle with that too), I would heartily recommend Alexa to anyone – whether visually impaired or fully sighted, and particularly for anyone living alone during lockdown. She will always provide a response of some sort, so it beats howling despairingly into the abyss.