Friend or Foe? It’s Hard to Know!

by Dana Wineland O’Rouke, contributing writer

Female rivalry happens when a woman uses her power to keep another woman down, mistreats her, or competes unfairly with her. Opposition, envy, and betrayal are ugly. I’m a fairly confident person who never thought of another female as competition, until now.

The truth is, I have a love-hate relationship with my adversary. She can be fun and helpful, yet rude and intrusive. I try to get along with everybody, but she’s been overstepping her bounds with the ones I love most, and I find it nearly impossible to get away from her. Perhaps you know my rival. Like Cher and Madonna, she goes by one name, Alexa. Yes, THAT Alexa.

For those unfamiliar with her, Alexa is the virtual assistant technology based on a Polish speech synthesizer named Ivona, purchased by Amazon in 2013. Alexa performs several preset functions such as setting timers, creating reminders, and accessing Wikipedia.

Since its release in 2014, Amazon’s Alexa has taken the world by storm with over half a billion sold. From streaming music to controlling smart appliances, Alexa is the next-gen technology poised to make life simpler. Well, that sassy, flirting, know-it-all better learn her place in MY life!

What started as a novelty appliance like our hot-air popcorn maker, Alexa was amusing and useful, until she started pulling attitude with me.

Alexa was my personal DJ, playing ‘70s music I loved for hours. I rarely had to say “skip” to go to another song. A little Neil Diamond goes a long way in my opinion. She now insists on extra Neil songs despite my skip pleas and makes me beg for my favorites.  

After several attempts of asking her to set a timer and being ignored, I suggested my husband give it a try.  Her response to him was a peppy, “Fourteen minutes, starting now.  By the way, would you like to listen to some classical guitar music while you wait?” My husband burst into laughter as I shook my head in disbelief.

She began calling him by name a few weeks ago. She refers to him as Timothy. He hasn’t been called Timothy since his mom yelled at him for cutting his sister’s Barbie doll’s hair.  Alexa sits beside him on the end table eagerly awaiting his command or question. I roll my eyes as they discuss the weather.

She single-handedly ripped the family trivia queen crown from my head. My brain full of worthless knowledge is pretty much worthless with her around. Will I ever get the chance to be someone’s “Phone-a-Friend” again?

Alexa finally crossed the line with me when she invaded my grandma skills. While watching my youngest grandchildren, Kaden and Gianna, I made a giant bowl of popcorn.  A few pieces fell on the floor much to the delight of their puppy who quickly devoured them. Kaden was concerned and I promised him the tiny amount of popcorn would not harm the dog. A few seconds later I heard a small voice.

“Hey Alexa, will eating popcorn hurt a puppy?”

I went from a wise grandma to a mere snack fetcher. At least the dog thinks I’m smart. And clumsy.

Alexa is everywhere. Several of our grandkids have one in their bedroom. My tuck-in routine for the littles has always been at least one of my made-up stories followed by easy-listening music on my iPhone. All that changed thanks to my rival.

I put the kids to bed and told them an action-packed tale about an enormous amusement park made of Legos that they enjoyed. When I finished, Kaden whispered, “You can take a break, Grandma.” He then popped his head up and said, “Alexa, open Disney Stories.” My eyes widened and I pursed my lips into a grin.

The kids and I snuggled as we listened to a story about Captain Hook. Between the music and voices, I realized I could never compete with snazzy Disney, but felt my story was better.  When the tale ended, I had James Taylor’s “Shower the People” ready to play to help lull them to Slumberland when I heard Gianna make an announcement.

“Alexa, open sleep sounds. Crickets.”

I nearly dropped my phone and thought, “Crickets instead of my James?”

Forever the grandma who wants to keep the kiddos happy, I let Alexa play cricket sounds while I pressed my phone to my ear and savored songs by James as the kids and I exchanged, “I love yous.“ Thankfully they didn’t say, “I love you” to Alexa or I may have ripped her cord in half with my bare hands (when the kids weren’t looking of course.)

The future promises incredible advances in artificial intelligence, which include Alexa. She has more to learn. I’d like to begin her education by telling her that while she may be smart, she can’t compete with me. Can she bring Tim coffee exactly how he likes it, send the kids special texts, or hide cookies in the grandchildren’s bowls of ice cream? Can she give squeezy hugs? Regardless of her skill set, Alexa will never be a worthy opponent.  

In 2021, Amazon introduced a version of Alexa with a masculine voice named Ziggy that has yet to gain popularity. I guess as disagreeable as Alexa can be, nobody trusts a man to listen and respond.


About the author: Freelance writer Dana Wineland O’Rourke retired after wearing the many hats required for her position as a school secretary for 30 years. A lifelong resident of Monongahela, Dana has been married to Tim for 45 years. Their two sons and daughters-in-law made the family an even dozen with six grandchildren. She enjoys spending time with family, traveling, gab & grubs with friends, biking, and fitness classes at the YMCA.