My apologies for the later-than-usual post today. It was, I fear, unavoidable. But I’m sorry for the lapse and will endeavor to do better in the future.

As I implied last month, The RagTime Traveler is complete. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on in the way of writing. We’re deeply into the research and planning for our next collaboration. It’s much too soon to drop any hints about the plot or setting, but I will say that, like TRTT, this book is going to deal with matters we’ve both wanted to write about. In TRTT we wrote a time travel tale. In [Title Redacted for Security Purposes], we’re going to–. Ahem. For right now, I’ll leave it at “we’re going to scratch several itches.”

So I spent a chunk of the morning weeding the results of some plot brainstorming and researching a character we didn’t know we had.

16-1Then I got, well, distracted. See, yesterday afternoon, I got one of these. As we all know, the acquisition of a new gadget is a top priority. You have to make sure it works, right? Not to mention fix the inevitable problems you create for yourself by using it wrong.

Most of the problems have been solved. Assuming I can clean up the last few oopsies, I’ll be posting soon about what the gadget is and what I’m doing with it.

Enough excuses. Let’s move on to the actual post for the day.

According to Quartz, Amazon has found a new way to use technology to destroy civilization.

It seems that there’s a growing movement among parents who believe that Amazon’s Alexa is ruining their efforts to teach their children proper manners.

The problem, they say, is that Alexa doesn’t react like a human when you speak to it. It doesn’t insist that kids say “please” and “thank you” and it doesn’t get annoyed at the hundredth repetition of “Why?”

Alice Truong, the author of Quartz’ piece, points out that there’s a solid technical reason why Alexa doesn’t want polite phrases: “…extraneous words can often trip up the speaker’s artificial intelligence” and “In general, kids can be hard to understand—more so when it’s artificial intelligence that’s deciphering their speech.”

But Ms. Truong doesn’t mention the most important reason: Alexa isn’t human. Alexa is a tool designed to perform a specific function–answer questions–and like (almost) every tool, it’s designed to do it in the most efficient way possible. Imagine how annoying it would be if you had to click a “thank you” button every time your web browser displayed a new page.

Rather than worrying that Alexa is teaching your kids bad manners, how about teaching your kids that different circumstances require different behaviors? For example, running around the dinner table, screaming might be acceptable at home, but it’s almost never appropriate in a restaurant.

Similarly, thanking your waiter is almost always appropriate, but thanking a hunk of plastic is never mandatory and rarely necessary.

And, of course, apologizing to your readers is sometimes appropriate.

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