I Don’t Want To Talk To Machines

I can tell Google to turn up the heat in my house or start the air conditioner. I never do.

Man not wanting smart home features to talk to him Monsterstock1, StockSnap, Ibrar Hussain | Canva

My wife and I have a long history of talking to the television. She expresses her disgust at the TV during the nightly news when politics is not going our way. I cheer when my favorite sports teams do something well, and moan when they do not. For decades, our television was indifferent to what we had to say.

That’s the way we liked it.

Group of friends watching sports and yelling at the TV Studio Romantic / Shutterstock


Today the big flat-screen TV in my living room can figure out when I am looking for something to watch. It suggests, over and over, that I press the speaker button on my control and just tell it what I am looking for. I never do. I keep scrolling and hoping. Scrolling is inefficient. I know that, but I don’t want to talk to my TV.

It’s not personal. I like my TV. I just don’t want to talk to machines.

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In the kitchen, when I want to add something to my shopping list, I can ask Alexa to do it for me. In my den, I can ask Alexa to turn on the lamp or play my favorite Moby Grape album. But I don’t want to talk to Alexa. I don’t like talking to her. I make my shopping list on a mini-legal pad that fits in my back pocket when I go to the store. When I want to hear Moby Grape, I poke at buttons on my Sonos app.


I can tell Google to turn up the heat in my house or start the air conditioner. I never do.

While driving, I can ask my car to plot a route to my destination or play the Talking Heads on the radio — and I only call it a radio because I am old. It is a sound system. I suspect it can play radio stations, but I’ve never figured out what buttons to push to make it do that.

I don’t tell it where to go or what to play. I let the sound system play what it wants. The places I want to go are on a convenient dropdown list because I go to those places often. I should know how to get to them without GPS, but I don’t. If my location is not on the list, I spell it out by poking at the screen keyboard while the guy behind me at the stoplight rages.

It’s my fault. I bought all that stuff and set it all up. I loved buying it, configuring it, testing it, and then showing it to my wife to prove how clever I was. But once it was all working as expected, I didn’t like using it.


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Setting up machines is fun. It is quiet. It is solitary. Fussing with tech, wires, and software is something I can do alone in a quiet room. When it is complete, I wallow in the pleasure of a problem solved, a job well done, and then take a nap.

My den is a quiet place for doing quiet things. In the morning, I read the online version of the New York Times. These days, it has items that readers are supposed to click on and then listen to. It is disappointing to me when a headline catches my eye, but consuming the content requires me to disrupt the morning silence. No news item is worth that.

In my den, I don’t ask Alexa to turn on my lamp and or play music.


My Android phone is forever reminding me that to stop the timer I can just say “stop.” If I preface a question correctly, I can avoid the tedium of typing it into the search box. Every time I talk to Alexa, she tries to prolong the conversation by asking if I want an update on my outstanding Amazon orders or a list of today’s bargains. I don’t want the conversation prolonged. I don’t want the conversation at all.

I don’t want to talk to my machines.

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What about podcasts?

I want to listen to podcasts, but I can’t.

I've tried. People I respect host podcasts on subjects that interest me. By using headphones, I can ensure the sound doesn’t escape and disturb the time-space continuum in my den. I don the headphones most mornings after reading the news in my ever-failing attempt to learn Spanish on Duolingo. But I can’t listen to podcasts.

I listened to the first two episodes of Herbert Bushman’s The Dark Ages. What could be more enticing than a multi-part history of the Middle Ages? The answer is nothing. The first two were superb. I want to get to episode three and meet the Huns. Being retired, I have all the time in the world, but not enough time to put on the headphones and listen to episode three.

Sorry Herbert — and all you other great podcasters out there.


I once had eye surgery and couldn’t read for three weeks. Podcasts were my salvation. Turning to podcasts, I learned and then forgot the entire history of England. I swore I’d make podcasts part of my life, but didn’t. As soon as I could see again, I was back to reading.

I can’t listen to podcasts while I own unread books, and I own hundreds of unread books. To all those podcasters out there. I want to love you. I do love you. I just can’t listen to you.

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Orrin Onken, a retired elder-law lawyer, writes about aging, cooking, and addiction on Medium. His legal mystery novels are available on Amazon.