Sunday, July 19, 2015

You are never alone, Now!

Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" was a favorite story for us in our school days. There used to be a subject called "Craft" and schools had craft teachers. There would be one or two "Craft" classes each week.  These classes were meant to teach some craft, art or trade requiring manual skills.  The craft teacher we had in middle school was very good at telling stories.  He started the story of "Robinson Crusoe" and it ran like the present day TV serials, for almost an entire academic year.  He would always finish the day's class at a very interesting stage and make us wait for the next class.  Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" was another story in his armory. "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens was yet another popular story in the classes. These stories would ensure that one full year's calendar was occupied and spill to the next year.  Gulliver's Travels was often quoted as a book read all over the world; from cabinet councils to nursery schools.  May be, Harry Potter has replaced them for the present generation.

"Robinson Crusoe" and "Gulliver's Travels" are now nearly three hundred years old. Daniel Defoe published "Robinson Crusoe" in 1719 and Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" was first published seven years later, in 1726.  Robinson Crusoe is the story of a sailor who found himself on a deserted island due a shipwreck which killed all others on board.  The description of the island nearly fits today's Tobago island.  Robinson Crusoe had to spend 28 years all alone in an island fighting with cannibals and managing a life all by himself.  He made a hut for his living, learnt hunting and farming and even made a calendar by making a knife mark each day on a wooden cross. He lived alone with nobody to speak to and almost forgot his language.  He finally liberated a slave from the cannibals and name him "Friday" as he joined him on a friday.  Friday was taught english and together they finally escaped from the island to be back in civilization.  The novel makes a very absorbing reading and was a big hit in the days without modren computers and gadgets.

Living alone is a very difficult stage in one's life as most of us would have experienced at one time or the other. Solitary confinement was and still is one of the most torturous punishments that can be given to a human being. Staying alone in one's own house when other family members are away is also an ordeal for many.  Yet, there are many instances in life when one has to live alone and fend for himself.

These are the days of electronic gadgets, tools and devices. The latest in the list is a new electronic gadget called "Amazon Echo" released by Amazon.  Amazon which brought out e-reader Kindle, touchscreen phones and tablets has now come with its "Alexa".  It is a 9-inch tall, black metal cylinder that can merge with the background when placed on a table, bookcase or with kitchen appliances. (See the picture given alongside). It's bottom part has perforations with speakers inside. It responds to questions with a clear and pleasing feminine voice. It can respond from a distance as well, like from the next room. It does not behave like a husband or wife who pretends as if he or she did not hear your call.  Alexa can understand every member of the family without training and respond to their voices. It is presently named as Alexa, but it may soon come with other variants like with a man's voice and changing the name from Alexa to your boyfriend or girlfriend.

Alexa listens to you but does not respond unless it is specifically addressed as "Alexa".  So, husband and wife need not hesitate to quarrel because Alexa is hearing and watching.  It is like a faithful little child; watches the parents quarrel but does not get involved unless invited to the proceedings.  It is pre-loaded with various useful applications; spelling and definitions, alarm, music, jokes, facts, time and distances etc.  It can get you latest news and weather reports, tell you about the schedules of various sports and games and many such other things for which you had to surf the net earlier. A question asked to Alexa is transmitted to the computer system with Amazon and sent back to it across the internet. Yet, the response is immediate and stunning.  It has capacity to upload your own music files so that you can hear them whenever you desire.

Some examples can drive home its advantages more clearly. Here are some interactions : 

User: What should I wear today?
Alexa: You are never fully dressed without a smile.

User: What is the weather like today?
Alexa: Right now, here in Seattle, it is 68 degrees Fahrenheit with mostly sunny skies.  You can expect more of the same with high of 72 and low of 66.

User: Alexa, I have a headache today.
Alexa: No wonder with all the excess wine you had yesterday.

User: Why don't bicycles wake up early?
Alexa: Because they are two-tired.

Alexa, of course, cannot answer some questions.  Like this one for example:

User: Alexa, My husband is annoying.
Alexa: Hmm, I can't find the answer to the question I heard.

Alexa is not very costly as one would imagine after learning about all these features. It costs less than a reasonably versatile smartphone.  It is priced at 180 US Dollars or about 12,000 rupees now. Its seven microphones can interact with clarity despite other noises and sounds around. Many more features  are likely to be added in the coming days.

If Robinson Crusoe had an Alexa with him when he was left on the island due to a shipwreck, we would never had his story today.

You are never alone. Now, with Alexa around!


  1. I really like this one sir, a good transition between time periods, comparisons, technology, childish memoirs, great

  2. Very nice comparison and interesting to read.

  3. Very nice comparison and interesting to read

  4. Very nice comparison and interesting to read

  5. This reminds me of our teachers from St.Antony's , Tanjore where we used to be taught about the various diseases affecting Paddy, Sugar Cane and other crops and the remedy for the same. Our drawing and sport teachers were good at map reading, Our English Teacher Dorairaj was good at Explaining the Food Habits in Different countries, Our Science Teacher use to teach us about clean habits and health and dressing tips. Our maths teacher use to tell us every saturday story of an English Fiction movies. Each day of a week use to be interesting.