I find myself saying “Alexa” quite often these days. I know no one by that name. And even though it creeps me out, I am approaching transition to another form of life, what I like to think of as my own personal technological “singularity,” meaning, in this case, the moment when technological enhancements will morph my mere pre-tech human existence into a new species all together.
Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, after all, the only things Alexa (an Amazon Echo that comes in a box) does for me right now is set timers and turn on KRWG FM (which she mispronounces as “KRWG-for-tune-in.” Isn’t that cute!). And she doesn’t even recognize Romalia, the Roomba vacuum cleaner. Romalia turns herself on at 11 am each day and makes her own route around the house before returning to her charging station (except for when she barricades herself in the laundry room and does who-knows-what with the mop).
Of course, the reason they don’t communicate with each other is my fault. They are enslaved to a life of isolation because their current master is not yet smart enough to introduce them. That can only happen when my tech savvy biological progeny come home for a visit. You might say that a small singularity has already occurred in the next generation.
Which brings me to recognizing the change in the way I read books. As much as I love old fashioned paper and ink books, I am doing most of my reading on electronic devices. A sign of our times is that everywhere I look, other people are doing the same thing.
Not that apps can completely replace a brick and mortar library for me. Recently, I stopped by Branigan to get an audio story for a long drive. Being read to is one of my selfish pleasures. Once upon a time that required finding someone to do the reading aloud. Not so with audio books. Oh, you may be thinking, going to the library is so last century. Yes, I know there are apps for that with hundreds of thousands of choices. The advantage of going to the audio books section of the library is that the selection is limited and requires me to make a forced choice. There, in person, I must consider a finite number of different authors and titles. Recently, I chose 1Q 84 by Haruki Murakami. I had heard of the author and was intrigued by the parallel universe structure. If I had seen it in its three volume printed glory I would have been dissuaded by its length. But, CD’s all look alike so I didn’t self-censor and enjoyed a tumultuous trip to a Japanese fantasyland while driving through Texas.
Speaking of Branigan Library, the children’s section sports state of the art, kid friendly computer stations that are entertaining, educational and very popular with the beginning reading set.
Accessibility to children’s literature is evolving in other ways too. Few parents would even consider taking a little one on a trip or into a restaurant without some kind of electronic entertainment. Open eBooks is a new app that makes books available for free to low-income children by allowing libraries, schools, hospitals, and shelters to download thousands of books to mobile devices. Current estimates of personal electronics usage suggest that 85% of families living below the poverty line with children aged between 6 and 13 own a tablet or smartphone.
Just as our reading devices change so too do our conversations. My friends of the pre-electronics generation are now regularly consulting their smart phones in face to face encounters. Their conversations are enhanced with access to facts on the spot; just another example of how quickly technological advancement is changing the human condition. Keep calm and read on.