The Amazon Echo device, commonly known as Alexa, is celebrating its third birthday. Since she hit the market, Alexa has been receiving startling amounts of personal questions treating her not as a device but as a confidant.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the company stated that more than 50 percent of interactions with Alexa is “nonutilitarian and entertainment related.”
The device has gained popularity quickly. According to CNBC, Amazon’s Echo claims over 70 percent of the smart speaker market. The product’s influence is far-reaching, having sold over 15 million.
Many device owners are asking personal and sensitive questions than the company anticipated.
“That part honestly surprised us a little,” said Toni Reid, the vice president of Alexa experience and Echo devices, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Customers treated Alexa as a companion, someone they could talk to.”
Alexa has received questions concerning depression, suicide and abuse. The frequency of such questions has been concerning to the company. The Wall Street Journal informed there is no legal responsibility to respond to such sensitive topics. However, many see it as an ethical obligation to help.
“If people are struggling, they may turn to a device due to its convenience and accessibility,” said Kevin Green, a professor in the home and family department. “Whereas, maybe they wouldn’t turn to a friend or a person because they wouldn’t feel comfortable.”
More frequently, people are beginning to personify technology and even treat it like a member of their family. “It has a huge influence for good or for bad,” Green said.
Green said his family is a consumer of the Amazon Echo device. They find it useful for everyday tasks such as cooking conversions, helping with math homework or setting a timer. They also use it to play family games such as “20 Questions.”
However, Green acknowledges how addictive easy-to-use gadgets can be.
“Sometimes we’ll unplug it,” Green said. “Those who struggle with compulsions and addictions, they’re isolating themselves with technology and really need to be reaching out and connecting with human beings.”
Green said taking time away from constant technology can be beneficial, it helps prevent addictions especially when having some really clear boundaries on technology use.
“I’d say, in a way, we’re all addicted,” said Amber Russell, a junior studying elementary education. “We’ve come to rely on technology so much that we wouldn’t know what to do without it.”
College students are constantly using their laptops, cellphones and other devices.
“I would suggest everybody take some tech-free time,” Green said. “There’s nothing wrong with doing a technology fast, taking some time away from the phone, whatever it is to give yourself that space.”