When Jeremy barked orders at his personal assistant, she didn’t flinch, but I did. Something about the sound of his sharp, commanding tone—directed not at me, but still, at a woman—repulsed me. In the few weeks we had been dating, he had never spoken to me this way. But could he? Hearing Jeremy make ungrateful demands didn’t make him seem powerful or important. He sounded entitled and difficult, like someone who enjoyed commanding for the sake of commanding. He would ask her to do things he could easily do himself, almost as if to prove that he could. Surely, it would take less time to reach out and hit the light switch by the door than to bark “ALEXA. LIGHTS ON” every time he entered the apartment.
So began my habit of noting how men speak to their devices. Not all men are as bad as Jeremy, of course. There was also the sensitive Southern gentleman who tenderly asked Google to play him a thunderstorm (the “hey” added a welcome salutation, lessening the abruptness), and the workaholic surgeon who courteously entreated Alexa to order more paper towels. (His lilting tone turned “Alexa?” into a request rather than a command.) Smart speakers have only been around a few years, but they are rapidly becoming pervasive—with 1 in 6 Americans now owning one, up 128 percent from January 2017, it’s clear my smart home etiquette pet peeve is something I’ll continue to grapple with.