When you’re asking a digital assistant to do something for you, do you say “please?” How about “thank you?” It’s a question that’s been on my mind for a while, ever since I set up some smart lights in my apartment and started using Siri to turn them on and off. Demanding that my phone turn on and off the lights started feeling weird to say aloud, which got me to wondering: was I being rude to my smartphone?
To be clear, this isn’t some kind of “Be nice to Alexa or the robots will kill you during the inevitable uprising” thing. I know very well that Siri and Cortana are just a bundle of voice recognition software and algorithms, and that they’ll work just as well if I ask them to “Tell me the weather report, please” or just bark out a command for the forecast. And as for saying thank you, given that the speakers have (in theory) shut off from active listening by that point of the query process, it’s unlikely that my Echo can even here me saying it.
Or, as various people have made the argument to me, would you say “please” to a toaster or “thank you” to an ATM?
But here’s the thing. I don’t talk aloud to an ATM or toaster. And I do when I’m asking Siri to turn on the lights or set an alarm, in the same natural language that I use in day-to-day life. It doesn’t matter that an Echo can’t hear or understand it — it matters that you say it. At what point does my rudeness to smart assistants start to bleed into my normal speech patterns? If I get used to asking Alexa to turn on the lights without saying please, will I still do the same when I ask my roommate that’s walking by? I’m polite to my smart assistants because I want to be polite to people too, and reinforcing rude habits seems like a bad idea.
Maybe I’m totally crazy here. When I polled people on Twitter, it seemed that most people aren’t polite to their digital assistants, which again, is totally fine since they really can’t tell the difference. But my argument is that we shouldn’t be polite to our voice activated assistants for their benefit, but for ours.