Hey Google, My 5-Year Old Thinks You’re Real: What Should I Tell Her?

A Listening to Student Voices post by SJSU School of Information student Katie Kuszmar.

The other day I told my Google Home device to go to the next song, and my 5-year-old daughter said, “Mommy, you were kind of mean to Google just now.” It is so confusing to explain that the “Google Lady” is not a person. To model social graces, I might just have to be more polite and patient with this tiny little, ever listening speaker that sits in my kitchen. I only use it for listening to the news or music when I cook. I quabble with my daughter who tries to out-shout me to get the Google Lady to do what she wants, “Hey Google!” she yells after I have told it to play the news, “Hey Google, play Elsa music!” At which point, the Google lady begins the Frozen station obediently. I feel doomed and should really take Elsa’s advice to let it go, but I am hesitant. Kelly (2018) explains “some research indicates children understand …Google Home is a piece of technology, but they also see these gadgets in psychological terms — as having emotions, as being capable of thought and friendship, and deserving of moral treatment, Severson added.” I suppose I can feel good about the fact my daughter understands how to care for other’s emotions through tone of voice, but still…

I unplug it often. I don’t rule out that Google is listening. I suppose the convenience of it makes me bend my leniency. One time, I was laughing with a room full of people, and my Google Home started laughing too—unprompted. It was so creepy. I turned it off for months.

I know I am going to have to embrace this little thing (as a symbolic gesture of accepting IoT), despite the confusion it brings to my daughter and I trying to navigate our playlists and manners. You should have heard the last time we had a play date: two five-year-old’s became aware that Google Home was on. The shouting match of requests that followed was unbearable. I almost felt bad for the Google Lady.

Looking down the pathway to libraries as my new workspace, I know that IoT will need to be utilized, and we need to anticipate how to use them to our communal and civic advantage. As Stephens (2018) suggests: “Of course, the more interesting functionality will come when we can ask our virtual assistants to look up books at our local libraries, place holds, and even read the books to us.” I can see how even the Google lady can help us meet new trends in user connection.

I remain concerned about privacy issues, especially regarding library accounts. Griffey (2019) highlights an important aspect of indulging smart and smarter machines: “As more libraries and library vendors move into developing AI and machine learning systems, we should be sensitive to the privacy implications of collecting and storing the data that’s needed to train and update those systems.” From my own experiences, although embarrassing to admit, I think I often sacrifice a concern for privacy over the intrigue and convenience of new technology. One example of this is engaging with the ads that come up in all of our internet usage. The incessant running shoes that I looked at last week keep popping up in my emails and searches, and damned if it doesn’t remind me of my running aspirations. It is important for librarians to work for people to combat complacency and convenience of our patrons so that their privacy is ultimately protected.

Finally, I do admire the sentiment noted in the OCLC (2014) report: “Several librarians indicated   that libraries should wait until the technology is more widely adopted and available until investing time, effort and money into developing IoT services” (p. 5). Librarians can model slowing down, protecting privacy, and strategizing about the best technology implementation as they face changes.

 

Before becoming an MLIS student, Katie Kuszmar taught at the collegiate and high school levels for 12 years in English and social justice subject matters, integrating oral history education into classes, service learning, and on immersion trips. Interested in storytelling and memory, she has recently produced oral histories that focus on building sustainability through community narratives, in particular of fishermen and farmers. As of late, she is always learning from her curious 5-year-old and whenever she has a moment, she loves painting and creating embroidery landscapes.

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