I'VE RECEIVED A GIFT THAT IS SOMEWHAT TROUBLING
I know the Fabulous Honey Parker is going to be displeased when she reads this.
It is, after all, a birthday gift she bestowed upon yours truly last week.
The gift is Amazon's Echo.
If you're not familiar with this interesting little device, it's not unlike having an iPhone with Siri specifically for using in the home environment.
But, instead of being an iPhone, Echo is a WiFi cylinder roughly the size of a tennis ball can packed with audio speakers, microphones and electronics.
And instead of Siri, Echo connects to Alexa, which is an Amazon voice service providing interconnection to other web services.
NOW, ON THE FACE OF IT, THE FIRST TROUBLING ASPECT OF ALL THIS IS THE AMAZON BRAND
You know what we say around here: the brand is the one way your core customer should feel about your business.
Amazon used to be the world's biggest bookstore. It felt like I could get any book there.
Now, it's kind of the world's biggest store, period. It feels like I can get almost anything there and have it shipped free via Amazon Prime.
But then came the Amazon-branded electronic devices.
First, it was the Kindle, making Amazon the world's biggest ebook store. If it's not on Kindle, it's probably not available as an ebook.
Then came Kindle Fire, which is a tablet.
Then came Fire TV, which is an HDMI device that competes with Google Chromecast for streaming video to my TV. (I have both devices. Chromecast mainly lies fallow. It feels kinda pointless.)
Then came the Fire Phone, which feels like an abject failure as a competitor in the smartphone market.
BURN YOUR FIRE PHONES, EVERYBODY!
So Amazon goes from being a bookstore to a general retailer to an electronics manufacturer...
And a cloud computing provider.
You never really think about that, do you? (Unless you happen to be someone like faithful screed reader Steve Cunningham, who is our token uber geek here at the screed.)
Amazon Web Services, or AWS, covers the entire world with what amounts to cloud-based virtual server farms for enterprise IT.
AWS is a mind boggling cloud service.
And Amazon Alexa is distinctly linked to Amazon Cloud when it comes to using Amazon Echo.
WHAT ON EARTH IS THE AMAZON BRAND, ANYWAY?
What am I supposed to feel about it?
The failure of the Fire Phone should help illustrate the fact that Amazon certainly doesn't feel like a cellular phone company. Their mediocre phone is still better than many, but constitutes a failure nonetheless.
Amazon feels like a general retailer with proprietary tech products.
But beyond all that brand confusion (I really don't know how to distill the Amazon brand into a single, concise sentence), there's a bigger challenge here for me.
What the hell do Echo and Alexa say about our culture?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE TEACH KIDS TO VOICE COMMAND EVERYTHING TO A COMPUTER?
There are already endless complaints about Millennials exhibiting excessive entitlement and narcissism.
What's going to happen when entitled, narcissistic nitwits wire the house with do-this-for-me electronics that absolve their children from any responsibility for performing the simplest tasks?
Will Generation Do It For Me have been unleashed upon the world?
Will a population of helpless fools signal the final, drain-circling spiral of the American character?
Will it all put the control of the world in the hands of Amazon, Google and Apple, with IBM sitting there, wondering how on earth Big Blue missed the boat on world domination?
WHAT REALLY IS THE IMPLICATION OF GIVING A COMPUTER CONTROL OVER THE SIMPLEST TASKS?
Are we ultimately turning control of our lives over a series of Great Satans hell bent on running all human behavior?
Will you use a Siri-controlled phone to summon your Google driverless car to pick you up at the front door after you tell Alexa to feed the cat and lock the door behind you?
Will it tie your shoes? And what if there's a power failure? Will we all just sit here in the dark, afraid?
Is this the beginning of the artificial intelligence paradigm that eventually leads to the War Of The Machines and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger coming back to us from the future fully nude, except for a flesh colored man girdle, to save us from termination of the species?
How happy is GoogleAmazonApple going to be when all their DriverlessAlexaSiri machines belch digital napalm back in their faces and assume command of all the global package-delivery drones, using them to drop Amazon Fire Bombs on all the C-suite executives who thought they had all this madness under control?
"WHAT HAVE I DONE?"
One of the best last lines from any movie ever.
Spoiler alert: if you haven't seen Bridge On The River Kwai, I'm about to ruin it all for you.
A Pre-Obi Wan Alec Guinness is commanding Allied prisoners of war in Burma who are forced to build a railroad bridge for their Japanese captors.
At the end of the movie, when Guinness discovers evidence that the Allies are about to blow up the bridge, he comes to a sudden realization about his part in this madness, and gets blown away by mortar fire as he says, "What have I done?!" and falls dead on the detonator, blowing up what he's done and sending an important enemy train into the river.
What are we doing?
AND WILL WE BE ASKING, "ALEXA, WHAT WE DONE?"
Will this end up being some kind of publicly-traded digital dystopia that makes The Minority Report and The Hunger Games seem like last decade's TV sitcoms by comparison?
Will I be sitting in my house, transformed into a helpless and drooling, Alexa-fueled bonehead who can't even tie my own shoes because there's a power failure?
I don't know.
But I do know this: Amazon Echo is pretty cool.
Even if Alexa has no idea what I'm talking about when I say, "Alexa, find me a paella recipe."
The good news is, I can change the name I used to address her.
Maybe I'll change her name to Puppet Master.
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Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.