Confessions of a technology dinosaur


By Doug Gardner

Sunday, May 13, 2018

My toaster is laughing at me.

The computer is giggling, too. During a recent internet outage, the screen displayed a Tyrannosaurus Rex grinning above some inscrutable message about my DNS server (Do Not Snicker?) not being available. Am I a technology dinosaur?

Perhaps they were looking over my shoulder as I read about Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa, laughing at users. Various outlets have reported episodes in March of Alexa's unprompted, creepy cackles. The company has a fix for that, they claim.

We don't have Alexa living with us. We do have a grandson, Alex. I can see the two getting confused. "Alex, pick up the playroom before you come down for dinner." To which Alexa might reply, "That's not one of my skills, Doug." What if our grandson overhears this? "Let's pick up pine cones, Alex,” I’d say. "That's not one of my skills, Pop-pop," he might reply. Talk about "machine learning."

We already have communication problems with Siri, the eldest of the virtual voice assistants. Siri on my new iPhone wants to help me send messages to friends and family by transcribing my voice. She needs to work on her listening skills.

A draft message to our daughter-in-law about the childcare schedule included this observation: "It looks like an early Easter vacation." Siri was prepared to tell her, "It looks like you have a gnarly yeast infection."

They make smart refrigerators now, too. I'm not sure I want my fridge spying on my dietary habits. A bottle of Russian dressing or the leftover beef Stroganoff could get me in Robert Mueller's sights.

I’m relieved to know that I’m not one of Cambridge Analytica’s 87 million friends. I’m probably too boring. Apparently, my friends are, too. Facebook informs me that since I never downloaded “This is Your Digital Life,” and neither did any of my 454 friends, I’m in the clear. I haven’t downloaded any apps or games through Facebook, being something of a digital hermit. Location services is turned off, too. Even Diana can’t find me most of the time. “Douglas, are you in the kitchen?” Dumb question: I’m in any one of nine other rooms.

Twitter says I have six notifications ready and waiting, just for me. "Take a look," it beckons. I've already been assigned a handle by the folks at Twitter. All I need do is create my 54th password and sign up. I'm passing on this offer, since I can't take a look at the merchandise first. Maybe the tweets are from the lonely Asian women who are dying to meet me, according to my spam email.

Come to think of it, how did Jack Dorsey at Twitter come by my email address? Maybe he and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg sat down over coffee at some hip bistro in San Francisco and traded lists.

I'm a Google and Gmail guy. But wait. Maybe Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, fellow San Franciscans, were there, too, and they gave Dorsey my email address.

Yes, that's it. Eight years ago, I turned over a vial of spittle to Brin and his company, 23 and Me, so they could sequence my DNA. Google has my DNA and all my keystrokes now. I'm toast.

That's why the toaster is laughing!

Doug Gardner is a resident of Pasquotank County.