Weekly Message from T. J.

At a Distance

“Alexa, let’s play a game.” My friend said this to my new speaker I have in my kitchen, and the speaker lit up. Apparently my speaker I bought to link to my phone to play music also can entertain me with trivia questions, which is nice. But it also has an uncanny ability to play “Twenty Questions” with anyone who dares. I simply thought of an animal, a giraffe, and in about thirteen questions, my speaker had narrowed down the animal in my head and guessed it was a giraffe. My friend selected a shark. And when my speaker asked “Is it dangerous?” at around question ten, we both looked at each other because we knew she had us.

If none of what I’m saying makes any sense, let me walk it back. The speaker has a voice controlled assistant inside of it. I can simply say to my speaker, “Alexa, play mellow seventies music.” And Alexa, my voice assistant, ably created by Amazon, plays a pre-selected list of songs from the seventies which are decidedly mellow. But until my friend began challenging my speaker to contests, I didn’t really know all it could do.

After a few rounds of animals, I noticed that my speaker offered to try to guess “concepts.” So I selected in my mind “quantum entanglement” as the concept and began answering Alexa’s questions. So, here’s the thing: I don’t know enough about quantum entanglement to make Twenty Questions work all too well. “Can it happen in an office?” I guess. “Can you feel it?” I hope not. I ticked off the questions one by one to see how many more my speaker had. “Can you see it?” I don’t think so. My speaker was running out of questions. We were at 19.

And before my speaker gave up the game, due likely to my entirely uninformed and unhelpful responses, it began to guess what the concept is. “Is it kindness?” No. “Is it compassion?” Nope. “Is it love?” My speaker kept asking about these concepts and wondering if they were what I wanted my speaker to find. “Is it altruism?” No. My friend and I got a little concerned that my speaker was just going to keep guessing until it exploded. I wondered if my speaker was mad at me. It was like all of my uninformed answers led down a road the speaker was sure must lead to kindness, compassion, and love. Had I deceived my speaker?

I felt badly…for an appliance. Are we now in a world when we can have compassion for our furniture? Maybe it’s the isolation. Maybe it’s the technology. But in a time when the world around us has contracted so profoundly, maybe I am being led to care in ways and about things I haven’t before. Or maybe I’m connecting to a new way of feeling, perhaps of being entangled with something in my room yet infinitely distant in shared spooky action at a distance. Or maybe I just got a helpful reminder from a disembodied voice in the night telling me what I should care more about.

I hope it’s a good week, friends.
Rev. T. J.

2 Responses to “Weekly Message from T. J.

  1. That’s funny! My parents have an Alexa now too. One day my mom was frustrated by someone on the phone, who wasn’t getting her take-out order right. As she hung up, she muttered something and, seeing the tablet stationed near the phone, decided to elicit some sympathy and said, “Isn’t that right, Alexa?” The reply came back immediately: “I listen, but I don’t repeat.” Spooky!

  2. So, Amazon has been reported extensively to have continually abused their warehouse employees with extreme quotas and unsafe working conditions. This same company has also had many controversies about shady business dealings, union busting, very questionable merchandise, and these controversies still erupt from time to time.

    So UU’s order fun items like Alexa from Amazon. UU congregations on the mainland have a donation-for-purchase arrangement with Amazon. UU’s singly and in their organizations avow a commitment to human dignity and social justice.

    Aside from ordering necessities during the pandemic or from being a shut-in, one
    can only ask Alexa: “What is moral disconnect?’

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