It has happened: My children want their own smart speakers.
It’s not surprising. I’m a journalist covering tech and music, so I feel obliged to understand these devices that loom large in my work. There’s an Amazon Echo in my home office, an Apple HomePod in the kitchen, and a Google Home Mini in the bedroom.
My sons watch me talking to Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant and quickly follow suit: If they’re not dashing into the office to request “Man’s Not Hot” before running away cackling, they’re enlisting the HomePod to do their math homework or pestering Google with inappropriate questions about bottoms.
The same phenomenon is happening in millions of homes around the world. Research firm Futuresource estimates that 26.6 million smart speakers shipped in 2017, with 89 percent of those sold to Americans and Brits. By January this year, one in six Americans owned a smart speaker. Another research company, Canalys, expects shipments to grow to 56.3 million in 2018 as the competition between Amazon, Google, and Apple heats up.
It’s been fascinating to watch my children’s reaction to smart speakers and their voice-control features. Like many adults — even tech-savvy ones — my mode of interaction is “Alexa?” (or “Hey Siri?” or “Hey Google?”), and then a pause before giving some voice command. It’s a pause that, I think, still signifies disbelief. Can I really talk to a device and have it understand me? Do I need to speak slowly and leave gaps?
There’s no pause when my children speak to a smart speaker. It’s a small difference, but noteworthy because of their confidence. Even toddlers can work out a touchscreen interface. They’re not thinking about the interaction with technology: They’re just doing it.
And now they want to do it with their own smart speakers. It’s not just because I’m a bit touchy about them talking to “my” speakers, whether it’s messing up my Spotify recommendations or teaching Google’s advertising algorithms that I have a keen and regularly voiced interest in “smelly bums” and “big poos.”
No, my sons want a device of their own that responds to their voice commands, and they only see the good in this. Which is where I come in as the big bad parent, fretting about privacy and personal data on their behalf. And, yes, this as a man who sleeps two feet from a Google-made listening device.