Children aren’t every adult’s perfect companions.
This is sometimes because the child is a louder, more guileless version of their parents and exposure to that truth can be difficult to manage, especially in today’s fractious world.
I’m led into this difficult observation on hearing that some parents are distraught at Amazon.
No, it’s not late deliveries or the departure of Jeff Bezos as CEO. This is far more serious.
It seems, according to the BBC, that parents of children called Alexa are continually observing their children being bullied by other children just because of their name.
“Older children would say things like ‘Alexa, play disco,’ said one parent. “Other boys picked up on it and shouted commands at her.”
Boys will be, oh, boys and therefore infernally idiotic.
Another parent offered an even more extreme portrayal: “My daughter Alexa is nine now. The whole thing is a step beyond ‘normal’ teasing and bullying. It’s identity erasure. The word Alexa has become synonymous with servant or slave. It gives people a licence to treat people with the name Alexa in a subservient manner.”
Some might observe that human identities are being erased in all sorts of ways these days — most certainly by some tech companies.
Yet, there may be human observers who believe this Alexa-based bullying is merely ill-fortune. Children can find so many reasons to be nasty to other children. And I speak as someone who was perpetually referred to, in childhood, as “Matchstick. Har, har, har.” (Brits. What can I say?)
One philosophy would have it that you must fight your way through these things, as just one of life’s rich rites of passage. Some, too, might observe that parents and teachers ought to manage how a child treats another child.
Yet Alexa-related snorting seems to have drifted toward mocking adults too. Grown-ups named Alexa are, apparently, sometimes subject to considerable levels of ridicule. (You’d think adults would get bored of this quickly, wouldn’t you?)
For its part, Amazon offered that the company is anti-bullying — what do you mean, “even in its warehouses?” — and mused: “As an alternative to Alexa, we also offer several other wake words customers can choose from, including Echo, Computer, and Amazon.”
I feel sure most people didn’t know this.
I feel equally sure this may be because Amazon has consistently advertised Alexa as a powerful element of its brand. Why, earlier this year, Amazon was encouraging customers to have an erotic relationship with its AI personality.
There is, of course, no ready solution to this problem, which is clearly very painful for some, to the point of one parent saying they changed their child’s name legally.
Amazon most certainly won’t be changing the Alexa name. There’s too much money invested in it.
Schools won’t be mandating that parents change the wake word on their Amazon devices to “Amazon” or “Computer.”
Would-be parents may, though, pause before naming a child Alexa — or Siri, for that matter — in the future.
And this will likely turn into yet another example for future generations. An example of how humans are the worst sort of primitive species — the sort that thinks it’s very clever.