When was the last time you had an argument about a factual topic? Like who coached the Bulls in 1997 or why the sky is blue? The gradual advance of the Internet into every arena of our lives has made these conversations, and the knowledge itself, obsolete. But what about when your 8-year-old son asks you how to spell cantaloupe and you realize that your phone is charging upstairs, there’s no laptop in sight, and he is definitely going to figure out that you don’t know how to spell cantaloupe? Lucky for you, your family just grew by about 9-inches.
Amazon Echo, a cylindrical, ¾ foot, speaking, listening, learning device is Amazon’s answer to Siri. Intended for the living room instead of the pocket, Echo is advertised as an addition to the family, a new fixture of our daily existence in the information age. In their quirky promotional video, a creepily stereotypical suburban family acclimates to life with Amazon Echo. “Play rock music!” the son commands. Echo plays rock music. “Stop!” says the father. Echo stops. Later, the older daughter, peeved by her brother, asks Echo to “define annoying.”
Although this Kafkaesque family is unsettling, perhaps the cheesiness of Amazon’s video is beside the point. Does the name pick up the slack? Echo is a powerful word, steeped with meaning and metaphor. The idea of your own voice bouncing back to you is exciting enough to make people climb up tall canyons. But why weave the idea of an echo into this device? Repetition is the most basic sign of understanding and accuracy. It’s why fathers ask daughters to repeat directions back to them and why we teach children repeat-after-me songs. Echo understands your requests and responds appropriately. Even larger than just understanding, though, Echo connotes expanding range. The device allows your questions to echo into the vastness of the cloud where they find answers and carry them back to you. Constantly listening, Amazon Echo is a fixed medium between the physical realm of your family room and the invisible yet omnipresent World Wide Web.
As Mashable’s Todd Wasserman put it, “we are increasingly willing to allow… commoditization of private moments in the name of convenience.” This is a scary thought to many. On the other hand, inconvenience, not knowing, and inefficiency top the list of many of today’s pet peeves. For that reason, many of us will undoubtedly embrace Amazon Echo. And we will sleep easier knowing that we asked it to set an alarm. So, while its promotional video may have missed the mark, the choice of Echo resulted in a strong metaphorical, suggestive name. And here at Catchword, the name says it all, says it all.