Getting Used to Google Home

Lynn JataniaWe got a new tech toy at Christmas this year – a Google Home. I must admit, I’d only learned that such a device existed a couple of weeks before I ordered one as a gift for my husband. I wasn’t sure what it would do or how we would use it, but it seemed like fun and it was on sale, so I picked one up.

The Google Home is like a little speaker that sits in your home and listens all the time. Any time you want, you can say out loud, “OK Google…” and then ask it something. You can have it play you a song (ours is linked to our Spotify account). You can have it look something up for you. You can have it play you today’s news or tell you what the weather is. You can set a reminder or add something to your shopping list or calendar, all just by talking out loud.

It’s like we’re living in Star Trek around here.

So far, it’s still a novelty for all of us – in fact, most of the time we forget it is there, and we still reach for a laptop or a phone when we want to check the weather or find out where we know that actress from. But slowly, we are integrating it into our lifestyle, one more technical interface in our home, one more thing that we will soon wonder how we lived without.

As usual when we encounter new technology, there are worries about how it will affect our family, and discussions about rules. So far, since it’s in our common family area, we haven’t had to worry too much about rules, although we have had to stop the children from “pranking” their father by adding false items to his calendar, or telling Google to please address him as “Rainbow Warrior Princess” (since the device is tied to his account, they have some limited access to his stuff just by speaking).

A bigger concern, for me at least, is how this will continue the brain rewiring process that is happening now, with the explosion of the internet and ways to access it. I was already worried about my kids’ reading ability – the Google Home allows them to access information without even having to type or read short articles on the web. I wonder if this might, in a small way, reduce their literacy, or at least their practice with things like spelling and grammar – things that are still important to a dinosaur like me!

And since they are asking the new device to provide them with one single answer to a question, we don’t always know the source of that answer – can it be trusted? How can we curate possible opinions? How can we verify that what the Google Home is saying is true? Working with our kids to learn to identify trustworthy information on the internet has moved to a whole new level.

And one last thing I hadn’t even thought about – this article in the National Post talks about how kids growing up with an internet-connected listening device like this could get used to being rude. The Google Home doesn’t care if you say please or thank you, and it’s kind of a grey area, how we want our kids to talk to their robot friend. Luckily, our kids so far are very polite, and often thank Google after she finds us the answer, but I wonder how kids growing up with such a device from birth will speak. Will they feel entitled to instant answers from everyone? Will they learn to command, instead of ask?

Once again, we’re forging new paths into a tech world where we just don’t know the answers yet. For now, we’ll continue to have a lot of fun getting jokes, recipes and songs out of our Google Home – and making sure our kids stay polite, do a lot of reading and think critically, too.