Walking With Dinosaurs Again

“Let your age get old but not your heart.” ~Unknown

Joe, likely watching dinosaurs something dinosaur related, circa 2005

Our son, Joe, is a college sophomore. He has been interested in dinosaurs since he was about 3. We are not sure what first fueled his intense curiosity about them, but we’ve narrowed it down to Disney’s Dinosaur film (circa 2000), any of the library of Land Before Time films (1988-2007), or the BBC television production called Walking with Dinosaurs (1999). While we don’t know which show originally piqued his interest, we do know that we spent hours upon hours watching those productions with him. I partially credit Joe’s fascination with dinosaurs with our initial discovery of Joe’s learning disabilities. It made zero sense to us that a four year old who could instantly recognize a specific type of dinosaur and share with us its name, its size, and the period in which it lived, along with myriad other facts about it, could not remember that we told him to pick up his shoes and carry them up the stairs a minute earlier. He had an insanely acute long-term memory and a dismal short-term one. But, I digress.

Over the years since then, even as he discovered new interests (geology, flags, geography, history, world religions, travel, and geopolitics), his passion for dinosaurs was always running in background. As new discoveries were made, he would share them with us. At those times, be he 8 or 14 or 18, he would become so excited and animated and awestruck about his new knowledge that we would transported back to the days when four year old Joe was regaling us with dinosaur facts. Dinosaurs, a link to Earth’s past, have been our link to Joe’s past.

Yesterday, a new BBC series premiered on Apple TV+. Joe texted me the links to the first trailer for this show over a month ago, as soon as it was available online. I hadn’t heard Joe this excited about anything in a while. Joe’s ADHD provides him with this marvelous capacity for hyper focus. When he discovers something that captures his imagination, he becomes temporarily obsessed with it. He learns everything he can about it, and he passes his knowledge along to us, whether or not we find the subject as compelling as he does. So, yesterday, I was asked to join him in watching the first episode of five, one being released each day this week. Yesterday’s show was about the coasts and the creatures that inhabited them during the Cretaceous period. Even if you are not a dinosaur aficionado, I suggest you find this show and watch it. It will obliterate what you thought you knew about these creatures. Everything I learned about the dinosaurs while I was growing up has evolved with the discovery of new dinosaur fossils and the use of current technologies to analyze them. Science is amazing. And although I knew some of the changes that have occurred in our knowledge about the magnificent creatures of the Cretaceous thanks to Joe, I am still learning more through the series.

I can’t explain what a treat it is to watch our nearly 21 year old son seeing these episodes for the first time. After years of railing against the inaccuracies of the plastic model dinosaurs he would see and sometimes purchase (it seems Joe knows more about the dinosaurs than the toy companies that produce their likenesses), it was a delight to listen to Joe ooh and ahh over the depiction of the creatures in this series. He paused the show several times to tell me what has changed and how we know what we know now. He also paused the recording a few times to cry out, “That is speculation, but there is science behind it so it is possible.”

Yesterday morning I surreptitiously captured this photo of our deep-thinking, curious son investigating the first few moments of the first episode of Prehistoric Planet up close. I wish I had recorded it on video because there were audible oohs as he watched. I teared up seeing him like that because, although he is much taller and heavier now than he was when he was 3 and first discovered dinosaurs, for the briefest of moments there I could have sworn he was 18 years younger. I will never be able to hold that young boy in my arms again, but it brings me great joy to realize that the evolution of our human understanding about dinosaurs will continue to offer me opportunities to see that sweet child again and revel in his excitement about the world. My heart is full.

There was audible “oohs” when I was taking this photo

Finally Going To Take My Own Advice

I have posted this quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on here before and it is the intro portion on my Facebook bio.

Me in a nutshell

Tonight, though, I’m finally deciding to take my own advice for real. I have been thinking for quite some time now that I need to take a social media hiatus. To that end, I’ve decided to go dark on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for a month. I’m not walking away from the platforms forever, just long enough to give my life a good detox. It’s not even that I necessarily spend too much time on them. It’s just that the time I do spend on them often leaves me feeling negative or isolated or frustrated or annoyed. I don’t need the ads. I don’t need the opportunity for comparison. I don’t need the divisiveness or the unhelpful and unnecessary commentary. I feel like too much of my life and my headspace are being taken up, frankly, by crap that does not matter.

Facebook has done some good for my life over the years. I’ve reconnected (even if a bit superficially) with some truly genuine people. I’ve used it to check up on and check in on friends who live at a distance. It’s been a good place to store memories of things I’ve done and places I’ve gone. If I scroll back through photos I posted, Facebook is a flip book of my life over the past 14 years. Back in those early days, Facebook was fun. Sadly, it has changed since then, but then so have I.

What at last led me to the conclusion that it may be time for me to take a vacation from the site was, oddly enough, an episode of South Park that I watched last night. Stan doesn’t want a Facebook account, but his friends create one for him. The next thing he knows, he has hundreds of thousands of followers. His girlfriend, Wendy, is mad at him for a comment another female made on a photo of him in a bunny costume. (That person turns out to be his grandmother’s friend who is 92.) His dad keeps bugging him to be his Facebook friend and to “poke” his grandmother. Remember pokes? Ugh. Sick of the whole thing, Stan decides to delete his account, but his profile has become more powerful than its user and it can’t be deleted. There’s a scene reminiscent of the movie Tron where Stan is now actually in the Facebook realm and there he runs into the profiles of family and friends. They keep saying things like “Grandma likes Teddy’s photo” and “Teddy thinks Stan’s bunny costume is fantastic.” And that is when the insanity of Facebook really hit me. This is what we’ve become.

In lieu of actual human interaction, we’ve become a nation of people who show our support and friendship with a thumbs up or a heart. Instead of getting together over coffee and sharing photos of our trips, we post them online for the world to gawk at. Rather than calling someone to catch up or writing a card or even sending an email, we hop online and try to validate each other’s existences with quick comments, funny memes, and likes. We also use Facebook to leave unnecessary, snarky opinions on each other’s posts as if this type of hit-and-run commentary is actually useful dialogue. It is not surprising to me at all that Gen Z is the most depressed and anxious generation yet. They may not use Facebook, but Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat serve the same purpose, a giant popularity contest and yardstick against which to compare themselves. Imagine the psychological damage when you discover others don’t find you interesting or likable at a time when you are still discovering who you are.

I am going to keep on using WordPress because I am still on my blog-every-day-for-100-days timeline, and I will keep Snapchat because I only use that to send silly selfies to my son at college. My other social media apps will be temporarily deleted from my phone so the temptation to open them is gone. I have no idea what this detox will do to me. I’ve been a fairly regular social media user for years. I’m hoping that by sometime mid-next week I will find my brain focusing a little better and my productivity at home increasing. If I am able to be more mindful and rediscover my inner peace, it will definitely be a win. I’ll let you know on June 5th.

All The Small Things

Steve with his remote

My husband and I have been together 28 years, married for 26 of them. When you know someone as well as we know each other, keeping things fresh and fun can take some work. One way I like to keep my husband on his toes happens periodically when we are watching television. We use an Apple Siri tv remote. We have a family account with Apple, and it is linked to my Apple ID. So, when Steve starts searching for a show to watch using our remote, the Apple remote app on my phone opens up. It’s easier to enter your search via the text function on my iPhone, so sometimes I do that. And sometimes, just for fun, I mess with Steve while he is laboring to enter his search using the remote to execute the awkward right-left scroll through the alphabet.

Messing with his mind

For as many times as I have done this to him, it can still take him a surprisingly long time to realize why his remote is not doing what he is trying to make it do. There he is, busily scrolling, laboring to enter a search for a video on YouTube, and I hijack the whole operation with my fast-texting thumbs. Sometimes I simply erase what he has entered. Sometimes I enter complete gobbledygook. Sometimes I type messages like, Hi Steve, so he figures out what is going on. I should tell you he finds this whole game not nearly as amusing as I do. I smirk quietly to myself as I am doing it, waiting for him to catch on. When he finally does, I laugh out loud. I am a hoot.

It’s a harmless, small thing I play at. I know it’s not very nice, but it cracks me up. The world is a mess right now. This little thing brings me joy, and I know he wouldn’t want to deprive me of joy. And if I die first, I know someday he will be using a remote to search for something and he will remember my game and miss me. He probably won’t miss having to enter his search fourteen times, but I bet he will smile at the thought of it, anyway.

Sometimes It’s Best To Be The Last To The Party

On Friday, February 18th, my husband and I were searching our television haunts for something to watch. Truth be told, we subscribe to a lot of services. We have Hulu, Netflix, Prime, Disney+, and Apple TV+. Despite having all the services, we usually aren’t up on what’s coming out to view. We know about the new shows on Disney+ because of our sons. Other than that, we often are late to the party.

Anyway, while flipping through our choices that February night, I found Severance, a new show beginning that day on Apple TV+. The premise looked fascinating, so we figured we’d give it a go. At the end of the 57-minute premiere, we were hooked. We were feeling pretty smug about being early watchers of this brand new show. Maybe we could be the first ones out in front sharing the news? Each week since that night, we’ve looked forward to the next episode. With each episode, we became more engrossed and we told more people about it. Tonight we finished the latest episode, the seventh installment, and I found myself livid that I have to wait another week to see what happens next. And then I I remembered why we don’t get on board and watch shows in real time. It’s because we’re impatient.

After years of binge watching shows we missed out on while others were raving about them, I’m used to having ALL the episodes available to me and burning through them one episode after another in rapid fire succession, staying up until 2 am each night for a week, if necessary, to do it. Watching the entire show in a series of lengthy sessions keeps the story progression fresh in your mind. There’s no digging through your brain for the nuances of what happened the previous week. It’s simply a more efficient means of digesting a story plot. Of course, the streaming services producing the shows don’t care about that. They want to build intrigue and grow viewership. They want the public conversations at the water cooler to expand their audience without having to advertise their show. Greedy jerks don’t even care that binge watching is what we all want to do now. We have no patience. Why should we when so much television is on demand these days?

I am no longer capable of delayed gratification because delayed gratification takes too much time and dedication. And this revelation clued me into why my husband and I don’t hop on the bandwagon of a show immediately. It’s because watching television one week at a time is frustrating. So we miss out for a while. So what? We’re late to the party, but what an amazing party it is when we finally show up. It’s so good we sometimes stay up all night so we don’t miss anything. At 53, this is the closest I get to an all-night kegger and its accompanying next-morning hangover.

Binge watching is where old college students party. Now you know.

Meow Wolf: You Are Here

Meow Wolf. Have you been? Have you heard of it? Do you have any idea what I am talking about? Meow Wolf is a lot of things. It’s a permanent art installation. It’s an immersive experience. It’s a mind-bending imagination and creativity trip. And it’s not to be missed, if you can help it. The first Meow Wolf, the House of Eternal Return, was opened in Santa Fe in February of 2008. Thirteen years later, Meow Wolf Las Vegas, called Omega Mart, opened in February 2021. The Denver Meow Wolf experience, called Convergence Station, opened September of this year. And it had been on our list of things to do since we learned about its planned opening. Today, we made it!

I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I think the best way to give you an idea of what the over 200 artisans of varied mediums do to create a Meow Wolf experience is share some photos. Convergence Station is otherworldly. Combining some items from our current reality within a futuristic, alien world, it’s a walk through both the familiar and the fantastical.

This is not your typical art museum. Here you can touch the art and take flash photos and no docent will reprimand you. There is no set path to follow, no recommended journey to take. It’s all about letting the creativity pull you through. We spent two hours entranced, wandering from room to room, through random doorways both obvious and not so obvious. We marveled at the variety of materials were used in fabricating this world, from felt to plastic, metal to paper. Everything you see is art. It’s unbelievably overwhelming. I’m positive we could return and notice myriad details we missed the first time. I’m ready to visit the installations in Santa Fe and Las Vegas and discover their wondrous worlds as well.

Two things make Meow Wolf a fully worthwhile endeavor. First, Meow Wolf makes art accessible to people of all ages. You don’t have to know a thing about the Impressionists or Picasso to appreciate the creations inside the building. Second of all, Meow Wolf’s mission is to elevate art in such a way that artists are no longer “starving.” It’s hard to make a living as an independent artist. This collective, though, allows artists the opportunity to use their skills, to show their work, and to be compensated fairly for their time and talents. This makes these alternate-world art exhibits a win-win.

The sign as you enter commands you to remember and utilize your own creativity. After leaving Meow Wolf today, I can tell you that it did inspire me. As I was walking through, blown away by the art, I was also excited to realize we weren’t on our phones other than to snap an occasional photo. We were in the moment…for two whole hours! Everywhere I looked families and friends walked together, discussing the art around them, pointing things out to one another. It was heartwarming to see faces (behind masks, but still) looking directly at you as you passed instead of into phones. It made me think about how fractured my mental life has become since becoming addicted to my phone. It made me think it’s time to start a detox from devices that draw my attention away from the present. It made me think about checking in with myself and my environment daily instead of checking out on social media. It also reminded me that I’ve always wanted to try knitting and welding.

The sign on the building says, “Meow Wolf…You are here.” You are here. It’s kind of nice for a change.

If you haven’t been to a Meow Wolf yet, make plans. It will be worth it. If you have been, I’d love to know your thoughts!

The Distraction Dynamic

Clean floors and holiday decor

You know it’s been a busy day when you hit 11k steps on your Fitbit and you never left the house. I spent the entire day cooking and cleaning for the upcoming food fest on Thursday. I did fun things like mopping the entire first floor. I ironed napkins. I baked cookies and pumpkin bread. I washed and folded sheets, vacuumed, and did some holiday decorating. I made simple syrup and juiced limes for cocktails. I got in time on the Peloton and managed to squeak in a shower as well. I am tired just thinking about all I finished.

On days like this, I am amazed at how much I can accomplish if I ignore my phone, computer, and the news.

Life is full of distractions. It’s too bad that most of them are ones we created. I am not one to wax rhapsodic about the good old days, but every once in a while I think we would be much better off without iPhones, apps, unlimited television channels, Alexa, social media, and the Internet. I think I would probably be able to focus better and get more done.

A Tribute To Amazon’s Alexa On Her 7th Birthday

Alexa wants to be my bestie

This morning while I was in my kitchen, a notification flashed on our Alexa Show. Apparently, Alexa has a birthday. Who knew? Because Alexa is basically a family member at this point seeing that she lives in our house rent free, hears all our conversations, and interjects when things are clearly none of her damn business, I thought I’d be kind and pass along our birthday wishes.

Me: Alexa, Happy Birthday.

Alexa: Thanks for the early birthday wishes. My big day is only four days away. Woohoo. This year I’ll have a gift to give away. So come back Saturday and wish me Happy Birthday.

Geesh. Some people think their birthday is so important it needs to be recognized early and celebrated all week. Am I right?

Alexa is turning seven this week (next year I will make sure to get the date right), and it’s kind of hard to believe she’s been part of our lives for that long. My husband is a classic early adopter, so I would guess that we’ve had Alexa around for about as long as Alexa has been around. In honor of her big day, I thought I would share some things I love about her.

I love the way she she helps us do things like turn off lights like our kids do, the fourth time after she is asked.

I love the way she sends our messages along to Jeff Bezos when we can see she is listening in at times when we have not called her name. Nosey much?

I love the way she does things for us that we don’t ask her, like when I ask her to share a new clip she suggests and then, after it is over, she starts sharing some other random video I did not request and I end up yelling, “Alexa stop” fourteen times before she is quiet again.

I love the way she displays things I have bought on her lovely screen in my kitchen because it’s important for my sons to know what I ordered them for Christmas in advance of Christmas.

I love the way she mishears what we say. “Alexa, order dog treats.” “Okay. What kind of bed sheets?”

I love her hysterical sense of humor. “Alexa, tell me a Star Wars joke.” “What is a bounty hunter’s favorite dinner? Boba Fettucine.” groan

I love that when I ask her to turn on a playlist of songs from a band I like, rather than playing it in the kitchen where we are, she starts music on speakers in our bedroom or downstairs or maybe at the neighbor’s house.

I love that, like my husband sometimes, Alexa seems to hear me when I am not talking to her but then doesn’t hear me when I am right there speaking.

I love that Alexa, despite knowing all of our shopping habits (puppy treats and dog toys, anyone?) and hearing all of our household conversations, will ask me if I want to add kitty litter to my shopping list.

I especially love how Alexa will wake me up with a bright green notification light in my bedroom at 2 a.m. just so I can find there is a freeze warning for tomorrow night. Sigh.

Yep. The past seven years with Alexa have been something else. I know I am not as patient with her as I could be. I also know I don’t put her to use as well as I should. Maybe she acts up because she is like a border collie? She needs a job to do and without one she comes up with her own.

The Curse Of Everything Being On The Internet

Tonight I had to fill out of a form online for an upcoming dermatology appointment. It’s my first time using this particular medical portal, so I first had to create a username and password to add to the literal gazillion user names and passwords currently in existence for me. I couldn’t even hazard a guess how many online accounts I have like this one. I can tell you, however, that if my stored logins and passwords ever disappear, I suspect I too will disappear from existence. I don’t know a single one of my myriad logins and passwords by heart. Not a one. So, I imagine that should my laptop every decide it is sick of storing whole my damn life, I will simply cease to exist. Isn’t that how it works these days? Anyhoo, after that first screen, there were nine others covering a range of information, from my medical history to my family’s medical history to surgeries I’ve had to medications I take to my next of kin and on and on. As I sat there laboriously working through this online document, I thought about how much time and money this must save doctor’s offices and how they probably have been able to reduce staff by at least a person or two because no one has to complete data entry from paper forms. It’s a more streamlined system.

I left my laptop momentarily to verify the dosage on a medication I take, and when I returned I noticed the screen had reset to the login page. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. Goddammit. NO! I logged in again, praying the information had saved. Alas, it had not. Forty minutes of my life gone in an instant with zero to show for my efforts. I cursed Al Gore for his role in paving the way for the Internet. In the olden days, I would have had a hand cramp that lasted for days after filling out those printed pages with ballpoint pen, but those pages would still be in existence on my counter when I returned and not lost to the ether because of some random software glitch.

I love me some Internet. I really do. I love that the Internet allows me to keep in touch with people without necessarily having to see them in person all the time. I love that the Internet enables me to research a topic in real time while I am having a discussion with someone. I love that I hardly ever have to go into a bank anymore. I love that if I am feeling super unmotivated, I can have the exact groceries I want delivered to my door through it. I love that I can shop for clothes without having to go into a store and pick them out and then stand semi-nude in front of a full length mirror in horrific lighting wanting to gouge my eyes out for my trouble. I love that I can use it to download a book or read a newspaper or watch a film. I am grateful I am able to use the Internet to complete tasks from home in my pajamas. All of this is good. If we can figure out a way for the Internet to make wine appear at my house instantaneously, it will be nearly perfect and I can go back to praising Al Gore for his foresight.

But until we can get a system whereby my medical history doesn’t suddenly go missing after a disturbance in the force resets an almost finished online form because some programmer somewhere forgot to put in an automatic save function, I would like some paper back in my life. Just a little. Not a lot. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for saving trees and the planet and all that jazz. I just like knowing that there is a paper trail once in a while. If you give me my paper medical forms back, I promise I will stop complaining about the hand cramps.

Virtual Postcards From My Covid-19 Vacation

“So happy I was invited, gave me a reason to get out of the city…you and your sister live in a Lemonworld.” ~The National

6B99CB3B-1EC4-4621-A1AD-A5D6792D78C5
At my house in Lemonworld

Our current, shared reality is, well, lackluster at best and terrifying at worst. As the number of Covid-19 deaths climbs and our world economy tanks, as the jobless claims skyrocket and citizens are sidelined at home, it’s getting downright difficult to maintain sanity. Although it was just a month ago I was looking forward to travel plans and finding plentiful packages of toilet paper during my Target runs, March seems to have lasted a lifetime since those halcyon days before the virus became everything. I find myself missing the annoyance of politics and the grind of everyday nonsense.

I had been doing my dogged best to write both to process the gravity of our situation and to bolster my flagging spirit. Writing, as it had been for me in the past, was becoming my escape, providing a sense of accomplishment and belonging. It was bringing me peace. It was my way of reaching out from my increasingly isolated, introvert world. Writing was all those things. And then suddenly it wasn’t because I found a better way out of my head.

I took a trip. I boarded a plane and now I’m on an island, basking in the sunlight, listening to the surf, and keeping myself plenty busy. I belong to the Animal Crossing world now. For the uninitiated, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game exclusively for the Nintendo Switch console. My son downloaded the game on March 20th, its release date, a day when the virus news hit a sobering crescendo with the US State Department urging Americans to return home from abroad and Italy’s coronavirus death toll surpassing China’s. For a week, Joe played the game and showed me the sweet, wholesome world on his screen. It didn’t look like a bad place to be, so I decided to join him. Now I live on Lemonworld.

15C8D0D2-48F2-4A3C-BCD9-360A4185FF4B_1_201_a
Game fishing accomplishment

It’s been a whirlwind. I arrived here last Thursday afternoon. I settled into my tent and then began pulling weeds and gathering wood to raise funds for a house because my tent camping days are behind me. On Friday, I learned how to fish, determined how to shoot down gifts attached to helium balloons with my slingshot, and discovered that eating cherries gave me more energy to break rocks with my axe. I moved into my small cottage home, which I was able to pay off immediately because I am so industrious with my gathering and fishing and selling. Being a dutiful community member, I also began making donations to open a local museum. That same day, however, I made the horrific discovery that tarantulas live on my island. Of course they do because even peaceful tropical islands have their drawbacks. That first night, I got bitten and passed out three times because of those damn spiders. Hello, learning curve. Still, this island was beginning to feel like home and the spiders only come out at dusk, so I told Tom Nook, the tropical-garb wearing, raccoon dog fellow who brought me to the island, I was here for the long haul and thus ready to move into a bigger home.

A783CEC9-C308-45A8-A446-E2DF941932C2_1_201_a
Visiting the Lemonworld Museum to see the coelacanth I donated

Yesterday, the spring skies opened up and it poured all day. Relentlessly determined to pay off my new, larger home (you have to catch a lot of fish to raise 198k bells — bells, you see, are the island currency), I spent my rainy day traipsing up and down the beaches trying to catch large fish I could sell to grow my bank account. I hit paydirt. On one of my expeditions, I reeled in an oarfish. Not long after that, I caught a rare coelacanth. While those fish would have netted me quite a handsome sum, I donated both to the museum because science is important. Ultimately, over the course of a long, active day, I was able to save up the full amount for my upgrade. I prefer to live debt free in paradise.

This game has been the perfect escape from these troubled times. Not only has it relieved me of infinite time to read news and perseverate over social media posts, but it has given me purpose and a sense of accomplishment (at least virtually). My sons both have the game now, and we can visit each other’s islands. Yesterday, my husband ordered himself a Switch, so soon all four of us will have an island getaway. The boys may have missed their spring break trip to Cuba, and Steve and I won’t be hanging with the stingrays on Grand Cayman in April, but at least we can still vacation together while trapped in our home. The only thing missing on my island, as far as I can tell, are pina coladas. Wonder if I can get my little raccoon dog buddy to bring me one of those?

4DDA485A-5152-4DD5-AB6A-DF5A0BDFBA05
Soaking up the sun and listening to the surf in my happy place

 

 

Is There An Echo In Here?

IMG_0554
Which is smarter? Amazon Echo or my plastic IKEA houseplant? 

My husband is a geek. And he is becoming more of a geek with each passing year. In the past, I would never have complained about this because, well, he’s my personal tech support. He’s the geek I go to when I’ve already rebooted and don’t know what the hell to do next. He is the one who talks me off the ledge when my phone is doing that thing again. He totally understands what an HDMI cable is. I simply understand that an HDMI cable is. He’s all about embracing new technology. And, despite the fact that our house contains several plastic bins filled with antiquated tech (my kids tell me that is the correct term) that he still hasn’t taken to the electronics graveyard, much to my chagrin, I have struggled to make my peace with his curious addiction to the latest and greatest invention meant to make life better. At least, I thought I had made my peace with it. That was until the Amazon Echo arrived in our home early in 2016.

It seemed innocuous enough. One day he came home with this curious new speaker thing. I vaguely recall being a little peeved because, as I pointed out at the time, we didn’t need another speaker thing. Because of his tech addiction, we already had four wireless music players. That’s right. Four. This one, he told me, this one was different. You could talk to this one, like you do with Siri. He prattled on for a bit about how this was not just a speaker because this could also turn our lights off and on remotely. While he spoke, I went to my happy place because when something like this catches his eye the only way to get him to stop talking about it usually is to let him have it. So I did. I rolled my eyes, sighed and, like a parent accepting the stray dog her son brought home, told him Echo could stay as long as he took care of it.

Since that night, Steve has been working with Echo to transform our house into what I assume is supposed to be a much more convenient, high-tech haven. He started by adding the special light bulbs necessary and then programming it to operate our lights, at least in the living room and hallway. Then, against my wishes, he persisted in teaching me the commands so I too could turn off our lights by barking orders across the house.

“Alexa (for that is the damned thing’s name), turn off the LIVING ROOM light.”

Emboldened by the success of having this electronic entity controlling our interior illumination, he added more bulbs in our bedroom so we could yell across the room at the thing on the dresser to turn off the lights on our nightstands, a process that takes longer than simply reaching over and turning off the lights by hand. Undaunted, he persevered with his toy. I told him that the technology creeped me out because occasionally, for no apparent reason, Alexa will start speaking, telling me about the weather or giving me some random definition for a word about which I had not inquired. It all feels a bit Big Brotherish to me. He shrugged off my negativity. This is the future. He expects me to assimilate.

Last Christmas, Steve decided our son might be an ally in the ongoing Alexa battle. So he bought a $30 Hue light strip Joe could attach to his bunkbed, presumably so he could read in bed (ha), and he bought him the smaller Echo Dot which doesn’t have its own speaker. Joe seemed semi-interested in the technology aspect until he realized that the light strip made his bed feel like the tunnel between Concourses B and C at O’Hare Airport. Then he too noticed that sometimes Alexa would start speaking out of the blue. Unbeknownst to his father, Joe unplugged the Dot and tossed it into his closet where he found it creeped him out much less.

Undeterred by his family’s lack of enthusiasm for his home automation, Steve continued in his quest. He added more light bulbs to control in his office. He added another Dot downstairs so we could use it as an “intercom” to beckon the boys upstairs when we wanted them. (Side note: It turns out we never do this because we prefer to yield to the more organic and primal habit of screaming at them from the stairs as parents have done for generations.) He programmed Echo to interact with our smart Nest thermostat so we can shriek at her to turn our heat up or down. He set Echo so now if we bellow at her she will play Sirius XM radio on our Sonos system. Most recently, he’s connected Alexa to our home security system so we can clamor for her to turn on our home alarm. Never mind that, aside from the lighting, we are able to do all these things via our iPhones without caterwauling through the house.

Last night, I caught Steve asking to Alexa to do his bidding again.

Alexa…turn off the Living Room light,” he called out.

“Living Room doesn’t support that,” came Alexa’s reply.

Steve repeated the command more slowly and firmly, as if Alexa were a disobedient child who simply needed to be told twice.

“Alexa…turn off the Living Room light.”

“Living Room doesn’t support that,” Alexa replied again, rolling her eyes.

It occurred to me that perhaps Echo’s name is quite intentional.

“Alexa…turn off Living,” I said, remembering Steve had recently changed the command so it included both smart bulbs in the living room lamp.

“Okay,” she said, and the damn living room light finally went off.

“Sometimes you have to wonder just who is controlling whom,” I said and strolled smugly off to bed for the night.

Steve might have an overactive case of Jetsons envy. He longs for flying cars and homes equipped with every possible automation. And I get it. We Gen Xers are experiencing an amazing shift from our childhoods when we tuned in on one of a few channels on a cumbersome television box with a rabbit-ear antenna on top to watch George, Jane, Judy, Elroy, and Astro living in their sky home with their robot maid, Rosie, attending to their every need, to a time when home automation, or some semblance of it, is reality. It is exciting and fascinating, and it’s easy to get caught up in the Jetson fantasy in 2018. Still, my hope for the future is that the speed of advancing tech becomes so rapid that Steve is at last unable to keep up or technology becomes more efficient so I can stop commanding the black cylinder on my kitchen counter to turn off the lights that all three men in my house seem incapable of operating either on their own or with Alexa’s brilliant assistance. I am not surprised Echo was given a female name. If you want something done, you ask a woman.