It was hilarious to watch the Italian grandmother’s reaction when she heard the smart assistant give precise answers to her queries even after she called it ‘Goo Goo’. This viral video took me back in time to an afternoon when Father and I had visited the community centre back at home where a crowd had queued up to witness a new piece of technology that was up for public display and demonstration.
This was a time when the Oxford dictionary and common man understood the definition of ‘mouse’ as a rodent with a pointed snout and a long tail that usually kept the occupants of the house running after it when it made an unbidden visit and technology was at its infancy and we were yet to trust complicated computing machines that could supposedly ease our workload. We looked in awe at the wonder gadget — the mouse — placed inside a locked glass enclosure to be carefully removed and attached to the keyboard by the ‘mouse expert’ during the hourly demonstration.
When computers replaced typewriters and swivelling cushioned chairs, the outdated wooden ones, Father, for whom the change presented a bit of a learning curve, spent evenings at one of the many internet cafes that had sprouted in the vicinity. These cafes had dial-up internet connections that grated and whistled noisily while the operator-cum-instructor imparted precious knowledge on the complex technique of sending electronic mail.
Much later, we rejoiced the day Father brought home our very own personal computer. Patience was a virtue for after the dial-up had finally made the connection, it took just one wrong number on the landline phone to terminate it.
These childhood tales have now metamorphosed into hilarious bedtime stories that get Sid to laugh incessantly and beg for more instead of getting him to sleep.
Earlier this year, when digital class was no more an option at his school, Sid got his tablet. The thought of my son owning a piece of technology that threw open the doors of the internet world was daunting. While he excitedly spent the first day exploring its features, I hovered about explaining the perils that the limitless world of the internet posed. It was about then that he discovered the virtual assistant — Siri.
At first, he was curious about the robotic voice behind the glossy black screen. Little Princess joined in the questions that ranged from ‘Hey Siri, Who are you?’ to ‘Hey Siri, do you like ice cream?’ This was soon seen to gravitate to academic doubts and questions like ‘Hey Siri, can you find my Math notebook?’ I must admit that it hurt to see that my son found ‘Siri’ more resourceful than his mother, but it was concern about the misuse of technology if left unmonitored that I restricted screen time.
Even though Siri has always resided in the complex interiors of my phone, it was the hilarious answers that my children sometimes got in return for bizarre questions that got me to activate the virtual assistant on my phone. It was impressive to get ‘Siri’ to pull out selective emails, send messages, make calls and set alarms with a simple voice message. But my family was not very happy to be woken up at 2am after the phone jarred to life with what appeared to be an alarm that had been accidently set during my trials.
While the older generation is hesitant to adapt to technological advancements, the children, for whom technology has been an integral part of their existence have taken to it like ducks to water. Father, who had been both worried and excited when he was handed a sleek, shiny smart phone called me up asking me to accept his friend request on social media. Sid is now working on a science project that involves moving suspended objects that can be controlled by an application.
I wonder where that leaves the middle generation — who can rock in a fetal ball of nostalgia at the sound of dial-up connections or talk about heavy desktop computers as if they were dinosaurs, but continue to be enthralled at the pace of technology and is striving hard to keep up pace in the virtual world as much as the real world and real people. Siri is sure to have one or a hundred and one answers to that question too!
Pranitha Menon is a freelance writer based in Dubai.