I don’t want our child to be best friends with Siri

April 22, 2012

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How about finding me a real friend to have a real conversation with? (Image credit: abcnews.go.com)


About six months ago, Maggie and I walked into our neighborhood Apple Store. She needed a new MacBook for her business and it was right by the Roasterie, so I obliged. For those of you reading this who don’t know Roasterie, think of the best coffee you’ve ever had and imagine it was twice as good. Ok cool…now you know Roasterie.

Back to the Apple Store. There were adults all over the store talking to different Apple employees in red shirts. Most of the customers had confused looks on their face as the unshaven Apple dudes and dudettes, a few of them in stocking caps, gave them a “there-there” look and began fixing their technology problems. The sort of stereotype we hear about all the time — those crazy kids and their gadgets. Yes, I just said dudettes. I know. Sorry.

In fact, the only person in the store who didn’t look confused at all was a little girl, probably about 5, who was sitting over at one of the demo iPad stations. While her mom talked to one of the red shirts in hopes of losing the confused look, her daughter pushed and touched. Smiled and stared. Seemed content. And never took her eyes off the screen the whole time we were in there.

I remember thinking how amazing that was at the time. That what we call emerging technology could be so intuitive to a child that young. Six months later, and maybe it’s the fact that I’ll be a dad in three months and am starting to think differently already, I still think it’s cool. But it also highlighted how different growing up will be for our kids than it was for me.

If you read this story in the New York Times last weekend, you’ll know where all this is coming from. Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and professor at M.I.T wrote a detailed piece about the difference between connection and conversation. The gist — we crave the former and are forgetting, or never learning, how to have the latter.

And that’s the crazy part. Many millenials and even Gen Xers today have trouble sitting through a conversation without checking email, sending a text or checking a website. But at least we were coached on eye contact at one point in our lives. We didn’t always have iPhones and iPads. We remember a day when we couldn’t access the Web without an Ethernet cable. We remember conversation, and how our parents taught us to look people in the eye when talking to them.

But that 5-year-old girl in the Apple Store and the next generation of kiddos are going to grow up in a society so engrained with technology, that they will be forced to have fewer in-person conversations that any generation before them. At the same time, they’ll likely have more online connections than any preceding generation. And some of them may not even be human.

At one point in her piece, Turkle hypothesized that one of the reasons people have developed an addiction to social networks is because there’s always someone there to listen. And we all have a fear of being alone. Then she offered the following insight about Siri, Apple’s “red shirt” robot friend that comes with your purchase of an iPhone 4S.

“Indeed, many people tell me they hope that as Siri, the digital assistant on Apple’s iPhone, becomes more advanced, “she” will be more and more like a best friend — one who will listen when others won’t.”

As someone who grew up running around the cul-de-sac with my best friends playing Ghost in the Graveyard and riding Big Wheels, the sentiment about Siri is disturbing. No matter how cool Samuel Jackson makes her seem in the latest iPhone 4S commercial.

I don’t want our child’s best friend to be a robot or a non-human. No matter how cool technology gets in his/her lifetime. I want our child to have real friends. People with which to have real conversations. Not just Siri or the latest Siri-like thing. And not just connections that add to a list of friends or followers in a social network.

Sharing coffee is more important than sharing comments. I’m not saying technology won’t significantly shape the life of that girl in the Apple Store, our soon-to-be-born child and this next generation of children as a whole. And there’s a lot of good that can come from that.

I just hope that when I have to knock on my kid’s door a few years from now to tell them to turn off the lights and go to sleep, it’s because he or she is talking to friends on the phone and not talking to Siri.

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MSRheinlander 6 pts

I would have to agree 100% ~ I still want the same interaction for my little monkey that I had growing up!!  There has to be a limit to the technology and a time to turn it off and tune out!

JGoldsborough 247 pts moderator

 MSRheinlander Right. Face-to-face isn't going away. And in-person connections are always stronger relationships. Speaking of in-person connections, great to meet you IRL at the #HallmarkTour in Austin. So glad you could make it! Hope we get to work together again soon. Cheers!