Her majesty’s secret service

Just when I thought the growing pains in my relationship with Alexa could be considered history, a new pattern began to develop. In the years before the age of assistive technology, we’d been alerted to the arrival of an Amazon order when a package would show up on the doorstep or in the mailbox. I’d been able to open the box or bag privately and disseminate its contents according to the identity of the items therein. If the delivery contained a bottle of vitamins, for example, I’d just whip it out and put it in the cabinet behind the one nearing emptiness. If it were a birthday present for a friend’s upcoming party, onto the shelf in the hall closet it would go until the time came to wrap things up. And if it were a gift for one of the kids living here, I’d quietly squirrel it away into one of my hiding spots in anticipation of the next occasion warranting gifting. However, now that Alexa is a fixture in our living space, we have the luxury of being audibly alerted when a package from Amazon has been delivered. Sweet feature, right?!

Wrong. Well, I suppose in theory it’s helpful, but that’s the thing about Alexa; she uses this guise of helpfulness to worm her way into a position of power, just like many masters of manipulation. Here’s what she does: say I’ve ordered Scotch tape, hamster food, printer ink, rubber gloves, popcorn, and a black widow spider preserved in resin. That spider was expensive, but it was right there at the top of my youngest child’s Christmas list. When the package was delivered, Alexa flashed yellow to let us know that we had a notification. Early on she’d trained us to know that if we said, “Alexa, what’s the notification?” she’d tell us what was on her version of a mind. When we do this after a package is delivered, she says, “You have one new notification. From Amazon shopping, a shipment has arrived,” which is all well and good, but she doesn’t stop there, adding the word “including…” followed by the name of one of the items in the delivery. For instance, when that particular order arrived, she could have said, “including Scotch tape multipack” or “including Orville Redenbacher popcorn” or “including Epson Series 340 replacement ink cartridges.” But no, she chose the one item in the group that was intended to be a kept quiet for the time being, spilling the beans by saying, “including black widow in resin,” loud and clear for all to hear. It’s like this every single time. No matter what the contents of the order are, without fail she selects for enumeration whichever item is a gift for a child living in this home.

My kids thought this was hilarious, of course, and delighted in the spoilers, deriving great satisfaction from noticing before I did that the yellow ring of light was winking at them, compelling them to take the bait and ask her for notifications themselves. Obviously I should have disabled this feature before I finally did, but I kept thinking it wouldn’t happen next time; next time, surely, she’ll call out one of the several things I’ve ordered that doesn’t happen to be a surprise for a child. And yet the next time, when a box containing sneaker deodorizers, mouthwash, caperberries, the newest graphic novel in the hit series the kids were devouring, and a hairbrush was dropped off on our front porch, which of those items did she choose to articulate in her haltingly haughty computerese? That book, of course, the full title just rolling off her virtual tongue.

The last time this happened, she gave away the fact that I’d ordered a doll hairbrush as a gift for Summerly in hopes that we’d avoid another American Girl head being wrested from a body due to brushing a tangled ponytail with an implement intended for human hair. Summerly, of course, was sitting right there at the counter at the time. After the big reveal, Alexa taunted me with, “Was that helpful?” but before I could tell her just how unhelpful it actually was, my daughter chirped, “Yes! Thank you!” Then she looked at me with a naughty glitter in her gaze and said in that quippy way she has, “Alexa’s my bodyguard for gifts.”

Just a friendly reminder to shop locally this holiday season, folks.

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