Amazon released its Super Bowl commercial this week, and it’s a weird one. The company’s Super Bowl commercials have historically been a little offbeat, but the best word I can use to describe this year’s is disconcerting.
It starts with Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi preparing to go out somewhere, and DeGeneres turns to an Echo Dot and asks Alexa to turn down the thermostat before they leave. DeGeneres then wonders aloud, “What do you think people did before Alexa?”
That leads into a rather strange montage of historical situations where actual humans (whose names start with the letters A and L) respond to questions or obey commands that are similar to things you’d ask Alexa to do.
In one scenario, a maid (Alessa), is asked to turn the temperature down, so she physically picks up a flaming log from the fireplace and chucks it out the window, shattering it. If I was the owner of the house, I’d probably be unhappy that my maid just put a giant hole in my window, but no, instead, the owners of the house continue their activities while Alessa’s shirtsleeve catches fire.
In another scenario, a man asks a newsboy (Alex) to tell him today’s news. “It doesn’t matter, it’s all fake,” Alex replies. Then the man and Alex share a hearty laugh, in what fully encapsulates the scope of the modern struggle of the public perception of media. (Alex does shake his head and sigh in dismay after laughing, at least.)
The other scenarios in the montage include a queen asking a jester to tell a joke, a man on a wagon asking his friend to play his favorite song (which he does, on a jug), a woman asking her friend to tell her something interesting while they are washing their clothes, and a princess asking her bird to deliver a message to a prince.
Seeing these scenarios play out within the premise of the commercial — “What do you think people did before Alexa?” — seems to suggest that Alexa has now replaced many of the jobs shown in the ad. Alexa can help with a lot of those, but we still rely on real humans to wire up thermostats, tell jokes, play music, discover interesting facts, carry letters, and even report the news (ahem).
Look, I get that it’s a Super Bowl commercial, it’s not real, and that these are all just jokes. But I actually found it uncomfortable to see real humans talk to other real humans in the way that we are encouraged to speak to our voice assistants. It makes me feel bad about the way we talk to voice assistants and makes me want to use them less.
I think I’ll just turn down the thermostat myself from now on.