The two most common words in the Albers household are probably “Hey, Google.”
(That’s not strictly true. I tell my parents I love them more than I should, because I’m a sap, and my heart is notorious for bleeding everywhere. Also, Rey is the best cat in the world, so my dad and I have a tendency to say, “Oh, Rey,” whenever she does something stupidly cute. But let’s pretend for the remainder of this column that “Hey, Google” are in fact the two most common words in the Albers household.)
“Hey, Google, turn the lights on.”
“Hey, Google, turn the heater off. Hey, Google, turn the blanket on. Hey, Google, turn the fan on.”
“Hey, Google, define _____.”
“Hey, Google, call Dad.”
I used to rely on Google for everything under the sun: calendar, tasks, documents, cat photos. Then I discovered Notion, and my digital life changed radically. But there are some things Notion can’t do, such as control the furnace or call my mom. I can’t overestimate the positive impact that Google has had on my life.
All this is to say that smart tech debates drive me up the wall.
I get the arguments, the concerns, the evergreen fears of an artificial intelligence takeover. I don’t disagree that big tech is using private data to monopolize the market, blah blah blah. But it bothers me when people look down on me for relying on smart tech. It bothers me when people make moral judgments about disabled folks who literally rely on devices such as Google Home or Amazon Echo to survive.
It bothers me that instead of throwing their time and money and sacred imagination behind alternatives to smart tech, people are content to condemn us.
I can survive without my smart thermostat. I can survive without my voice-activated fairy lights, or my electric blanket, or the space heater that runs for hours at a time during the winter. They enhance my quality of life, but I’ll be the first to admit that smart devices are by no means a necessity.
But it’s not just temperature control or mood lighting. It’s being able to call my caregivers. I can’t call 911, but I can call a friend and ask them to call 911 for me — redundant, yes, but in an emergency scenario, it’s better than nothing. It’s the knowledge that if something were to happen, I wouldn’t be helpless.
And that is integral to my quality of life.
A few weeks ago, in the dead of night, my dad came to roll me. He can’t see in the dark (yet), so he turns the light on by saying, “Hey, Google, turn on the string lights.”
Google usually dings in acknowledgement, flooding my room with a soft, golden glow. But nothing happened. Google sat on my desk, dark and unresponsive.
“Google must be down,” Dad said through a yawn, standing at my bedside like a sleep-deprived zombie.
I immediately felt a pang of anxiety. Google has become my oft unnecessary safety net. I know that if something happens in the middle of the night, I can call for help. Logistically, it’s not as easy as saying, “Hey, Google, call Danielle” — Google has a hard time understanding me at the best of times. It might not be able to hear me over my BiPAP. It might misunderstand me and call a random Chinese restaurant. God forbid the power is out!
But it’s the possibility. The hope. The knowledge that if something were to happen, I wouldn’t necessarily be helpless.
I asked my dad to unplug the device and let it sit for a few minutes — the tried-and-true troubleshooting method. We sat in drowsy silence. Dad zoned out, already half-asleep, and I prayed with the fervor of someone who might need to call a random Chinese restaurant in a couple of hours. He plugged it back in, and Google dinged triumphantly, spilling rainbow light.
I fell asleep with a smile on my face.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.
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