Originally published at The Atlantic

Almost every day I make a pot of tea. Strong, black tea, the kind you have to steep properly in a ritual that involves a kettle, a tea tin, tea lights, a tea cozy. It’s a four-minute brew, so I set a timer. I used to do it on the microwave, but some time ago I just started asking Alexa, via the Amazon Echo on my kitchen counter. “Alexa, set a timer for four minutes.” I can do this while pouring from the kettle to the pot. It is an efficiency that feels indulgent in the early morning or late evening (decaf; don’t judge me).

The only problem is the waiting. Staring out the window, scrolling the smartphone, just waiting. Alexa provides no feedback, no seconds counting down. The Echo’s lip blues mysteriously. It issues a sound when time’s up, which a voice command suspends: “Alexa, stop.” It’s silly, but the invisibility of my tea timer haunts me.

Yesterday, Amazon announced a new line of Alexa-enabled products, one of which provides a solution. It’s a cheap analog wall clock. The minute markers can illuminate to show the progress of timers set via Alexa. That’s it. On the surface, it seems like a preposterous, excessive solution to a problem that doesn’t even really exist. But for 30 bucks, it’s tempting.

This is how Amazon has infiltrated the home with its voice-activated devices and service. Not through genuine utility, but by scratching the smallest itches of ordinary life—even when Amazon itself is the cause of the initial irritation. The results might be convenient, but they also facilitate a new depth of corporate surveillance.

continue reading at The Atlantic

published September 21, 2018