My Father’s Own Personal Leg Lamp

“It’s like Christmas! It’s festive!” were the first words I heard after viewing the extremely tacky green light in the lamp in my living room. My father is the king of all things tacky. Find anything on Earth that is tacky and I can guarantee he will love it, especially if it lamplights up. However, this was a new level of tackiness brought on for him, specifically because this wasn’t just a green light. It was a lightbulb that changes color on command through Amazon’s Alexa.

After being away from home for the majority of 2017 due to studying abroad and working in Boston over the summer, I was looking forward to coming home to a peaceful, quiet house for Thanksgiving. The serenity was quickly and constantly disturbed by “Alexa, play _________”, “Alexa, call _______”, or my personal least favorite, “Alexa, turn the light (insert any color here).” Alexa is easily my dad’s new favorite toy, almost as much as the leg lamp obsession in A Christmas Story, and it’s inescapable. No, I mean it. There’s even an Alexa in our bathroom.

Despite my dislike for the interruptions, I was curious to see what Amazon’s next move was going to be, so I started researching. In the past year, a new team-oriented game came out called “Escape the Room”. According to their website, they describe themselves as “a fun, interactive game taking place in New York City.  While it looks like any other ordinary room, it’s actually a mystery puzzle.  Find the hidden objects, figure out the clues and solve the puzzles to earn your freedom and “Escape the Room.”  You have 60 minutes, so be quick! Come with your friends, family and coworkers and have a great time.”

Escape the Room has spread like rapid fire, but now there’s a new twist: Alexa. Alexa is now being used to power certain Escape the Room locations, responding to demands from participants such as “Alexa, open the top drawer.” Amazon offers the feature to be added to any Alexa device. Currently, it is free to enable, and can be shared among all of your Alexa devices. You can also also ask Alexa to find an Escape the Room Location in your area. She will send location and contact information to your Alexa app.

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Written by someone who personally experienced Alexa with Escape the Room, this blog post explains their experience and it’s quite intriguing. The most common commands used are asking Alexa to turn on the lights which as reported worked flawlessly, but there were hiccups including blasting Kidz Bop instead of providing the password, but everyone needs a little Kidz Bop once in a while to bring them back to the highly inconvenient days of disc mans and CDs right? Not so much, especially not when the clock is ticking.

But how would you feel if you were suddenly handcuffed to a chair, and only Alexa was there to save you? Would you trust her? This is what happened to one Escape the Room player who recounts their experience here. Alexa powered everything. Is Alexa the new Big Brother? What convinced me even more that Amazon is turning into Big Brother, is that they used this opportunity to promote Amazon Prime Video’s new Jack Ryan series being released in 2018. Hmm….kidnapping, handcuffing to a chair, and promoting material….sounds pretty Big Brother to me.

But Amazon isn’t done with Alexa yet. Alexa is not only becoming smarter and smarter, but according to an article written this month, some are predicting that Alexa will soon take over the entire smartphone industry We have become so reliant on our cell phones that Amazon is looking to replace that using the Echo Show and Echo Spot. Our phones have become such a necessity that as I sat at my gate awaiting to board my plane back to Boston yesterday morning, I put my phone on airplane mode for about 20 minutes to avoid losing battery when no one else was awake as it was 6am. During that 20 minutes, I happened to be working on my laptop which had the messaging feature turned on and I received a text from my sister that read, “Are you alive? Your phone was off”. Amazon’s devices would eliminate this scenario completely.

The scenario used in the article is this:

p-2-amazon-spotYou tap the “good morning” button on your bedside Echo Spot, and it displays the day’s forecast as the blinds open and the bedroom lights fade on. Downstairs, the Echo Show in the kitchen displays a reminder about your doctor’s appointment at noon, and alerts you to a single urgent email: You’ll have to join a conference call as soon as you get into the office.

In the car, you press the “commute” button on the Alexa-enabled dashboard, which queues up your favorite music while steering you around a traffic jam, and after work, Alexa relays another reminder to your car, telling you to grab milk on the way back. At home, you swipe through a list of restaurants on the Echo Show to make a reservation for the weekend, check in on your folks via video chat, and finally sit down to relax. With one more button press, the next episode of your favorite show starts playing on the Fire TV in the living room.

Seems insane, but it’s really not that far-fetched. Studies show that most smartphone users utilize a certain few of apps over and over again, sucking customers into their tricks. Amazon is looking to eliminate this through “quick, purposeful interactions” in order to “create more of a family, communal experience.” However, is this any different from a smartphone if the device has a screen? To me, it seems like a great idea for a supplement, however, you’re not going to carry around one of these devices for safety if you need to call 911.

The article also claims, “Meanwhile, Amazon is trying to encourage more visual elements inside third-party Alexa skills. That way, users can accomplish more of the things that might otherwise require a smartphone, such as booking restaurant reservations, following recipes, checking stocks, and looking up travel information,” but I don’t see a reason to have another device to do this when I already have my phone?

Personally, I think Amazon is a little too ambitious here, but at the same time, they’ve conquered pretty much everything else. What do you think? Until the next Amazon adventure…..

6 comments

  1. Interesting post! I had no idea that Alexa could be used in situations like Escape the Room in order to provide clues. It makes me wonder how Alexa could be used in simulations for national defense training since they go through so many obstacles course as part of their training. Currently, Alexa seems to be viewed as adding to the noise of our everyday lives (as you found with your dad), but these real world applications could really allow it to take off. Nice work!

  2. Nice post! I have yet to buy an Alexa for my house because I don’t think it’s features are worth drooling over yet, but I have to give it to them – the ability to change the color and brightness of the lights with your voice is pretty cool. The scenario you described of the not so distant future also seems enticing, as Amazon does everything it can to make us think and do less. At the same time, I would prefer not to depend on a machine to remind me what groceries to get and what my schedule looks like for the day just yet. For me, the smartphone is makes my life convenient enough. I’ve also never heard this Escape the Room experience featuring an Alexa, and I’m not quite sure what I think of it. I’ve played this games a couple times and I don’t really see how asking a machine to help find clues will add to the experience – I think what makes Escape the Room enjoyable is having to run around and work with your friends, and do everything manually, but maybe that’s just me.

  3. I had never heard of the “escape room” feature on Alexa. My kids do enjoy playing some sort of role playing game on Alexa, though. The future of these things certain is interesting.

  4. I think this new Alexa is great. I would be completely up for having it. Almost like a personal secretary. As with anything else int the world, any object can be used for good or bad depending on who is using it, and what there intentions are. If you look at what Apple did in not unlocking the phone of the attacker from San Bernadino for the FBI, it gives me faith that other companies will prevent ‘Big Brother’ from watching.

  5. Great post Britanny. I like the way that you look at the potential flip side of this seemingly perfect technology and recognize that it may be as equally distracting. I remember how often my parents used to tell me to get my face out of a screen, and I guess that isn’t too far off from using an Alexa, especially given that you mentioned their movement toward more incorporating more visual elements.

  6. Everything that Amazon has already done, I don’t doubt them when it comes to developing technology like this! I have a Google Home, so I am a little biased about Alexa but both items are awesome! I love all the different integrations you can do with them and even more to come. Alexa, being used in the Escape Room, is a nice touch! Just makes you think what else will they dabble into.

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