Elders + Tech = Laughs


Your intrepid correspondent on the Elder Watch beat considers it a key duty to keep you up to date where technology is concerned. Not about the latest technological developments. Forget that, I battle to keep up with the ever-changing tech world like most of us whose lives have straddled the Digital Divide. Besides, youthful tech experts abound.

My aim is rather to let you know when the technological interactions of seniors are causing sniggers. From the youth, of course, who are always laughing at how their parents and grandparents are challenged by their computers, phones and devices.

Why are they laughing at us now?

Stick with My New Old Self and you’ll stay a step ahead of the smirkers. At least you’ll know what all the chortling is about.

So here’s the latest tech-related joke that we older people are the butt of. It’s about those Personal Assistants now available on phones and other digital devices. There are lots of them, from Apple’s Siri to Google Assistant to a cylindrical device from Amazon named Alexa.

Amazon Alexa

Alexa inspired the US comedy show Saturday Night Live to do a satirical sketch, a spoof commercial for a purported new product based on Alexa. Specifically designed for the geriatric market, it’s called Alexa Silver. This senior-serving version of Alexa is jokingly said to be super-loud and responds to any version of her name that an older person comes up with, from Allegra to Aretha. Plus there’s an “uh-huh” feature – Alexa’s periodic response to the rambling stories of geezers.

As the youth guffaw about Alexa Silver one might ask: is this ageism? Sure, the humour is based on stereotypes of old people. It’s clearly ageist to ridicule all older people as deaf, forgetful and longwinded.

Although, actually… I’m still recovering from a laughing fit after watching that comedy sketch… I knew there would be more laughs to come when I heard that Amazon has launched a new feature for the real Alexa. You can take photos with a full-length selfie camera, then Alexa gives you feedback on what outfit to wear.

This has sparked jokes about a question Alexa will inevitably be asked: Does my bum look big in this? I suppose the question Alexa Silver would be asked is: Do I look like Mutton Dressed As Lamb?

mutton dressed as lamb in heels

What is the take-out message here? Should we protest against ageist parodies? I say laugh off getting laughed at. What’s not to like about a 24/7 PA? I’m not going to let a fear of youthful ridicule stop me from taking full advantage of Alexa. Or any of the other digital PAs on the market.

OK, Google – help me!

Since I’ve already got Google on my phone, I first explored its PA app. It’s free and goes by an uninspired name. In order to summon your Google Assistant you have to call out: “OK, Google…!”

Google assistant app

Having a PA is not as easy as it might seem. What tasks should I ask to be done? These early versions are not yet mobile robots, so you can’t request a cup of tea or a massage.

There are countless listicles of commands for a digital PA, but they don’t impress me. You can ask it to turn on the radio or play music – which seems like a fancy replacement for a remote control. You can dictate shopping lists.

You can get the weather forecast. Or anything else you want to know, because your PA is simply searching and providing information online by speaking and listening instead of by typing and reading. Oh, and what a surprise, Alexa can order you another Alexa on Amazon.

Amazon Alexa commands

Despite all the potential commands, there is only one task that I use my PA to help me with: setting an alarm. Mainly when it’s late at night and I suddenly remember that I’ve got to be up early in the morning. When you enter the spectrum ranging from underemployment to retirement, one of the many perks is no longer having to set an alarm every weekday. On the occasions when I do need to, I appreciate my digital PA.

Alarming assistance

Thanks to my assistant, I don’t have to start fiddling bedside in low light. I only have say: “Okay, Google – set an alarm for 6:45 am!” Then that reassuring voice tells me, “Setting alarm for 6:45 am” as it appears on my phone screen. By then I’m putting head to pillow.

If you get the “Sorry” message

A final point: if you try to play the video clip referred to above in the Republic of South Africa you will get this message:

screen redirect - sorry this video not available in ur country

Here’s a tip, a “workaround” to fix this: go to YouTube and search “Alexa Silver” (or whatever blocked content you’re looking for next time). You will eventually find the verboten video. Now I’m thinking that South Africa should charge Americans a special tax to watch Trevor Noah’s videos!


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