Voice Assistant User Parodies Humorously Highlight Risk of Skill Atrophy and Unintended Consequences
There is a new parody of a heavy voice assistant user employing Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri throughout his day. It starts out with typical scenes of voice assistant usage and then morphs into the assistants making snarky comments suggesting the user is over-reliant on his digital services. Voice assistants and other digital services may help us navigate the analog world more efficiently both figuratively and metaphorically, but the message is that these modern wonders may also atrophy our real-world skills.
The video was created by documentary filmmaker and author, Michael Stusser. His summary of the video in YouTube includes these comments:
“In ‘Use It Or Lose It,’ a man (Stusser) is gently coaxed by his various Digital Assistants to try and use his own cognitive skills – so as to continue to sharpen his memory, math skills and sense of direction. The video pokes fun at how reliant we’ve all become on our newfangled ‘assistants’ for even the most simple tasks, and warns of the potential for ‘digital dementia.'”
Analog Skill Atrophe and Digital Services
“Digital dementia” is a concept first introduced by neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer in 2012 and pre-dates modern voice assistants. It is at best a theory that doesn’t have meaningful clinical research to back it up. The idea that neuropathways are changed by digital use is unproven despite the catchy name for the supposed condition. In fact, a recent study from the University of Montreal reported in The Telegraph found that “playing video games like Super Mario for two months can improve brain capacity and help forestall dementia.” Further testing will help us understand which of these best reflects our reality and under what circumstances.
However, Stusser’s point about skill atrophy is likely an easier impact to evaluate. Anecdotally, many of us can remember when we could recall dozens of phone numbers from memory and today don’t know the contact details for even close family members. Then there is Google’s impact on removing the necessity to memorize historical dates. Why memorize dates that you are likely to need infrequently and can lookup in a matter of seconds when you do? Voice assistants may accelerate this process due to heightened convenience but are in reality just the latest interface that may be aligned with a long-standing trend. Be forewarned. We should keep our analog skills sharp because we may need them if there is ever a digital overlord apocalypse. Will you be ready to join the resistance?
An Automated Life May Not be Risk-Free
A Norway-based supermarket chain Rema 1000 had pure fun with the concept of voice assistants in another parody. In this example, a smart home and voice assistant power user begins his day with a protein shake, music, and some exercise on a treadmill. However, the automated life can quickly go wrong if your voice assistant responds to commands not spoken by the user, but picked up in song lyrics.
The video concludes with the phrase, “The Simple is Often the Best.” In this way, the messages from both videos are similar. When we sacrifice some tasks to digital services for the sake of convenience, there may be unintended consequences. Humans survived for millennia with no digital tools. All technology introduces digital unexpected and unintended consequences. One of those is use in advertising.
Humor aside, voice assistants offer the promise of tremendous benefits that let humans break away from the tunnel-visioned tether of a digital screen without sacrificing the convenience of digital services. It may be that voice assistants are tools enabling us to become more aware of our surroundings and more fully engaged in the analog world. Regardless, it seems that if you are promoting digital detox or a grocery store, voice assistants are a good vehicle for a laugh that can bring consumer attention to your message. Consider yourself informed.