Now that the holidays are over, my resolution to spend less money on gifts next year is in full swing. It’s not surprising that a recent survey tells us that shoppers spent more than $850 million — a 5.1 percent increase in holiday spending from 2017. One of the most-talked-about best sellers was the smart speaker: For the third straight year, Amazon’s best-selling product was the affordable Echo Dot. Interestingly, several commercials depicted Boomer and senior parents using smart speakers to connect with their children and grandchildren — like this spot about a grandmother connecting with her family, and this one, featuring a daughter interacting with her dad as she cooks.
When it came time to buy my Boomer mom a gift, I fell for the marketing hype myself. I know Mom loves listening to music in the kitchen, and seeing her old-school boom box made me think it was time for an upgrade. I got her the Amazon Echo Dot, influenced by the commercials that made using it seem so easy. Although my mother is quite averse to technology, I had a hunch she’d be comfortable with the Dot. I was right. Once I got her set up with it, she loved it. “It’s so easy to use — you just talk to it!” Mom said.
I caught up with Mom again after the holidays to see if her experience was still going well and asked her how she was using the gift. “Right now, just for music,” she said. (Mom likes to listen to country songs while she’s cooking.) “But sometimes I ask Alexa what the weather is.”
“What do you like best about the Dot?” I asked. “The ease of using it,” my mom said. “It’s hands-free. I can change volume, change music, easily. I don’t have to yell. I just talk, and she listens.”
One of my co-workers’ parents also got a smart speaker system for Christmas. Her report? Her parents like having it play music but don’t see it playing a large role in their lives. “My dad may ask about the weather, but he still goes into the kitchen to watch the weather on TV,” my co-worker said. “He’s not going to say ‘turn on the lights.’ He’s going to flip a switch.”
My mom is a little more adventurous. Although she’s sticking to music and weather for now, she said that she’s interested in using the Echo Dot for other home tasks as well. “If I had the hook up, I would use it to work lighting for more efficiency,” she told me. “I’d also like to use it to put the garage door up and down.”
I’m glad that my mom’s getting comfortable with voice assistance now — in case she needs more help later to make her life easier and safer, whether that means turning on lights in the middle of the night or saying, “Call 911” to summon help in an emergency.
According to this recent survey of industry leaders, the trend to voice will move forward faster than we can imagine. If, in turn, that can give older adults more of a voice in their lives, I think that’s a good thing.