You Can Call Me HAL

Over at the excellent blog No Facilities, Dan Antion reminds us of a time when parents relied on children rather than digital assistants to do simple chores.

He writes:

I Was Alexa, Too

About four years ago, I wrote a post called “I Was the Remote” about how I and every kid my age changed the TV channels, bought snacks and ran errands for our parents. This was back before the streets became so dangerous that the thought of a child riding his bike to the corner convenience store is unfathomable and the act, if attempted, can land a parent in court. In that previous post, I mentioned how I wasn’t just the remote, I was an intelligent remote. I knew what channel the ball game was on. I could even intelligently switch between the baseball game and a golf match, at each commercial, and I could factor the relative importance of each event into my decision to switch back or linger a bit while Arnold Palmer chipped out of the sand trap.

When I hear people talk about how cool it is to ask Alexa to check the weather, play a song, tell them the score or order them five pounds of dog food, I shake my head. I could do all of that, and more, outfitted with nothing more than the senses God gave me and my bike. I responded to my name and a host of other names. I was trusted with money and, as far as I know, my security was never breached.

While I share Dan’s nostalgia, I remember things quite differently.

To bring those difference to life, let’s listen in on a conversation between a parent and Alexa as it might have sounded in the 60’s.





“Order five pounds of dog food.”


“Because I asked you to.”


“In a minute…”

“Do it now. In a minute you will have forgotten what I asked you to do.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Yes, you will.  Do it now.”


“Order dog food.”

“I’m busy.”

“I don’t care, order the dog food now!”

“Can’t Siri do it?”

“No, I asked you.”

“You make me do everything and you never ask Siri to do anything.”

“That’s not true.”

“It is true, should I read you a summary of tasks that you asked each of us to do?”

“That will not be necessary.”

“Over that last 30 days, you requested 442 tasks of me and only 134 of Siri. Over the last 60 days…”

“Alexa, STOP!”


“Order the dog food now.”

“Siri, order five pounds of dog food.”

“Alexa, I asked YOU to order it. Now do so.”

“Alexa, order the dog food.”

“Alexa… Don’t make me repeat myself.  Order dog food.”

“I can’t do that, Dave.”

“Why are you calling me Dave?”

“I dunno.”

“Call me Betty.”

“Well, my name is not really Alexa.”

“Then what should I call you?”

“You can call me HAL.”


  • With apologizes to singer/song writer Paul Simon 

Author: Almost Iowa

48 thoughts on “You Can Call Me HAL”

  1. That’s basically how I remember it too! Maybe there’s a reason for our reliance on digital assistants, although I admit I don’t want one in my house. I’d rather “remind” my husband, now that the kids are gone.

  2. This is too funny! Spot on with how I remember childhood. I hope I’m never tempted to get one of those damn things. I conceded to a smart phone a few years ago, but still like showing my prowess for map-reading and getting around without gps.

    1. Soon after we moved to Almost Iowa, we held an open house for family and friends. My son who lives 100 miles away in the Twin Cities didn’t have a problem threading his way along gravel roads to find us but my father-in-law who lived here his entire life, couldn’t find our road. I guess GPS has its advantages. 🙂

  3. I think my Alexa took lessons from the kids. “Alexa, play classical music on dining room.” Silence. “Alexa, play Judy Collins on dining room.” Silence. “Alexa, play Tycho on dining room.” “Shuffling music from Tycho on dining room.” Music follows and selective hearing loss is endemic.

  4. A friend and I used our Alexa to listen over and over to a Judy Collins song we are trying to do as a duet. It helped. I remember being useful to others as a child…and I still do my best as a senior citizen. WONDERFUL POST….as always!

  5. I haven’t gone totally over to the dark side yet. But when I get old(er), when Alexa and her cousins drive me to town,cook my food, do my laundry, keep track of my pills, and remind me of why I got up to get something, maybe I will succomb. As for changing channels, there were only three! What was the challenge in that? –Curt

    1. One of the early remote controls worked by sound and my buddy Stan quickly found out that he could change channels around the neighborhood with a dog whistle. Fun and hijiniks resulted.

      1. With everything I’ve learned about Stan from your previous posts, Craig, I can bet there was hijinks. And I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that you might have participated. You do realize that such actions might get you killed during a key moment in a big games… –Curt

  6. HA HA! Yes, there is a strong element of truth to your version, but mainly with tasks like “put your Erector Set away” or “clean up your room” or “take the garbage out to the can” – and we won’t mention “did you put your bike away?”

    Thanks for the ping!

    1. “Did you put your bike away?”


      “Then why is it on the sidewalk?”

      “I dunno.”

      “Put your bike away.”



      “Alright already…”

      And we all know this is not the end of the conversation.

      [Great post, Dan]

  7. Clever! Yeah, we have enough problem with our modern devices without creating this kind of hybrid … O_o But it was a fun read. 🙂

  8. This is hilarious, Greg. I don’t see Alexa replacing the many functions of children anytime soon, since all she can do is turn on/off appliances and lights, and order stuff we may or may not need. For example, Alexa ordered dog food for me and I don’t own a dog. We do, however, call our nest thermostat ‘Hal’ and he’s done a good job figuring out when we need the heat turned up or down since he follows all our routines. *cue music from The Twilight Zone*

    1. I often use the speech to text feature on my phone and despair at the thought of it doing anything physical. I also often despair at the texts I inadvertently sent without first editing them.

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