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Voice Assistants Are Only Intuitive If You’re Already Tech Savvy

It’s easy to confuse “familiar” with “intuitive”. This applies to voice interfaces as much as it does to desktop ones.

Tech savvy people think of Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant as easy-to-use, because we’re used to using search engines and know to employ similar language when asking a question out loud. For people who haven’t used search engines, however, it can be hard to wrap your head around this.

Ian Bogost, writing for The Atlantic, talks about watching his 82 year old father, who has been blind most of his life, try to use the Amazon Echo. His dad is frustrated when Alexa won’t respond to the nickname “Lexi.” Here’s Bogost:

Hearing this, I groan. There goes Dad again, trying to be clever, getting it wrong, and relishing the ensuing chaos.

Then I stop myself. Isn’t it possible that he expects Alexa to recognize a prompt that’s close enough? A person certainly would. Perhaps Dad isn’t being obstreperous. Maybe he doesn’t know how to interact with a machine pretending to be human—especially after he missed the evolution of personal computing because of his disability. Watching him try to use the Echo made me realize just how much technology forms the basis of contemporary life—and how thoroughly Dad had been sidelined from it.

It can be easy to be frustrated when family or friends can’t seem to grasp basics about technology, but remember: what you see as intuitive is actually something you learned over time. Be patient. Be empathetic. And, when possible, be helpful without judging.

The article is worth a read, and concludes that the Echo is ultimately useful once you learn how to navigate it. It’s a conclusion more people are coming to, regardless of how tech savvy they are.

Justin Pot Justin Pot
Justin Pot has been writing about technology for over a decade, with work appearing in Digital Trends, The Next Web, Lifehacker, MakeUseOf, and the Zapier Blog. He also runs the Hillsboro Signal, a volunteer-driven local news outlet he founded.
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