Monday, February 25, 2019

Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, and My Digital Life

I just bought a new laptop for the first time since 2011. While I’m quite pleased with it so far, the process of setting it up and transferring accounts from my old machine has brought into sharp focus something that I’ve been vaguely aware of for the past few years: There are a whole bunch of companies vying to be the complete solution to my entire life. And you know what? It stresses me out.

Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple, and many lesser-known players all now want not just to sell me their flagship products or services, but to get me to use their comprehensive suite of solutions to all of my digital (and increasingly non-digital) needs.

As things stand now, I own a laptop computer built by one company with an operating system built by another company, on which I run primarily apps built by yet another company. I also have a phone built by a completely different company and use some of that company’s media services, but my TV is powered by a different company and I use some of its media services there, as well as some media services provided by the aforementioned company that provides apps for my computer. And I am relatively happy with how this works out.

However, while I am taking this à la carte approach, the fact is that now, any one of these companies is fully capable of providing all of the other products and services mentioned above entirely on its own. And boy, do they love reminding me of this. And stealthily trying to get me to use all of their services. And actually acting hurt if I decide not to.

And it bothers me so much. I’m a very loyal person. I’m also relatively prone to anxiety and tend to struggle with misplaced empathy. These combined tend to make me a dependable and nice person when it comes to dealing with other people, but it only compounds all of the stress I feel over all of these digital services.

First it was Siri, then it was Siri and Alexa. Then Google Assistant (who had been there all along, I just never noticed her) became part of my life. And now Cortana, my sweetheart from Halo in high school just came back as a full-fledged digital assistant.

They all want me to use them. They all want to own my data. And I'm really anxious about it all. 

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