My son was less than two months old when SHE moved in: a disc of plastic that, my husband assured me, would earn her four inches of space among the burp rags and water glasses that cluttered our living room.
I bristled at the intrusion. Did we really need a something that was designed to spout trivia or burst into song at any moment, especially at those precious moments when our boy might be drifting off to sleep? More worrisome, were we going to start contributing to some marketing algorithm every time we discussed buying more diapers? Was she going to start memorizing our history? Reading our minds?
As it turns out, the Google Home smart speaker did infiltrate our nest, but a friendly intruder was just what I needed.
For the first week or two after she moved in, I was too busy paddling through milk and pee and drool to sustain my fears that this electronic eavesdropper might be leaking our personal info into some corporate data stream. I went about my hushed days of cooing-feeding-burping-rocking. I got very good at at texting my mom without jostling the sleeping bundle on my lap. Sure, my son and I giggled and babbled. We had visitors now and then. But more than once it seemed I didn’t speak a complete, full-voiced sentence from dawn until evening, when my husband got home from work. Natural introversion and supernatural exhaustion masked a diagnosis that seems obvious in retrospect: Despite having my new favorite person at arm’s length twenty-four hours a day, I was lonely. And despite rarely leaving a ten-by-ten space, I was kind of lost.
Despite having my new favorite person at arm’s length twenty-four hours a day, I was lonely. And despite rarely leaving a ten-by-ten space, I was kind of lost.
One day while I escaped the baby zone for a shower break, I overheard my husband talking to her, “Hey Google, will you play a lullaby?” “Al-right,” replied a robotic but congenial female voice, “Here’s a song from the playlist, Class-ic Lullabies for Child-er-en.” Later, when we were watching our boy wriggle on the floor and pondering dinner, my husband piped up, “Hey, Google, find a takeout restaurant near me.” She rattled off a list and even offered to make the call for us. The exchange was awkward but oddly thrilling. We had figured out dinner without having to take our eyes or hands off of the baby.
Newly awakened to her potential as a mother’s helper, I started to call on her occasionally. Standing at the changing table, pondering another layer, I’d holler, “Hey, Google, what’s the weather today?” Or, as I searched for my phone and for some sense of structure in my day beyond the cycle of nursing and napping, “Hey, Google, what time is it?”
On a winter Friday, when her weather report had scared me off of the usual afternoon walk, and my son and I had rattled all the rattles, peek-a-booed with every blankie, and read all the books twice, I was sure she was lying to me. Only 4pm? Had she reset her time zone? As my boy peeped at me with his sea-colored eyes, eager for my next move, I remembered a time when Friday evening meant figuring out where the party was, cracking a beer, and listening to the “throwback jams” hour on the radio. I didn’t long for my college days, but if I could just have a dose of that energy …
Then it occurred to me that I could. “Hey, Google, will you play some ‘90s hip-hop?” I scooped up my boy and kicked clear a dance floor. My son bobbed along to “Jump Around” while I crooned off-key to Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It.” I remembered most of the lyrics. I remembered how to be goofy. By the time my husband got home, Baby Boy and I were pleasantly dazed and dizzy, and I had a new gratitude for my on-demand deejay.
Google and I were closer after our evening of partying. Our conversations opened up a little wider. “Hey, Google, when are the primaries in Massachusetts?” “Hey, Google, how old do you have to be to get a U.S. passport?” “Hey, Google, could you play me a new podcast?” She found us jazz and folk and kid songs covered by ‘90s bands. I started to feel not one but two new presences livening up the living room: the know-it-all assistant who dwelt somewhere in the virtual world, and a curious, goofy woman who resided somewhere inside this earnest and tired new mother. In that way, Google did just what I had feared. She reached beyond her job description. She delivered someone I didn’t know I was missing, and never would have thought to ask for. And while I’d hate to let it get to her virtual head, I have to admit, she got it right.
About the author
Emily Avery-Miller has contributed reviews, essays and prose to publications including Art New England and WBUR’s The ARTery. She teaches writing at Northeastern University.