Siri: The new voice in town

Pat Haley Contributing Columnist

The first telephone I remember growing up was the one that sat on a small lamp table in the hallway of our home in Port William. It was a solid black phone with a rotary dial that seemed to ring a lot.

“Haleys,” my mom would always say when she answered the phone on the first ring. We kids emulated Mom, and my sister, Rita, still today says, “Butchers” when she answers her home phone.

Like many people who lived in small towns in the 1950s, we were on a party line. I remember my mom kindly saying to a neighbor lady who was eavesdropping, “Mrs. Smith, we are on the line right now. Do you mind hanging up? I will be off in a minute.”

Our first phone number was 239. Later, it became “Hudson six-two-three-nine. To call long distance, such as Blanchester or Sabina, we dialed zero and an operator came on the line. She would then connect the call.

On Friday nights our family always did our grocery shopping at Albers on Main Street in Wilmington. Sometimes I would wait in the car with my dad while Mom shopped, and watched the telephone operators who were coming and going to work in the narrow building next door to Albers, where the Mediterranean Restaurant now stands.

One evening, an operator saw me watching and allowed me peek inside the second floor. The wires and cords were amazing to a seven year old.

As the years passed by, we were soon introduced to the cell phone. In the early 1990s my wife, Brenda, told me she could purchase a cell phone through a program at her place of employment. I was reluctant because back in those days customers were billed by the call. They were very expensive.

“I will only use my phone in emergencies,” Brenda reassured me.

“That makes sense. It might be a good idea for you to have a cell phone in case of an emergency,” I replied.

Shortly after Brenda obtained her cell phone, our home phone rang. It was Brenda.

“What’s wrong?” I asked concern there might be an emergency.

“Oh, nothing. I just wanted to say hello on my new cell phone,” she said.

I glanced out the window, and sitting in the driveway talking on her cell phone was Brenda. That was my first introduction to a cell phone and the last of cheap phone bills.

As we know, it wasn’t long before the IPhone appeared on the scene with our new friend, “Siri”. The IPhone is also a camera, video, compass, weather source, an email and text computer. It, too, is nice to have in case of emergencies. It provides an opportunity to stay in contact with our loved ones.

Like all things in life, however, Siri can be both a blessing and a curse. It has been the source of laughter and tears.

A few months ago it brought a few snickers. At least in retrospect. While sitting at daily Mass at St. Columkille Catholic Church one morning, my pew was located under one of the new Bose speakers toward the back of the church. The priest was talking about the plight of Syria. Suddenly, my IPhone blasted on. Siri had heard the word “Syria” and thinking I was dispatching her for assistance, she said, “Please say again. I did not understand you.” Everyone in the church turned around and looked toward the back, as I slinked down in my seat.

Siri also brought me horrible news, had it been true. One evening last week, I was sitting at home visiting with friends. Earlier that day, I had texted a pleasant message to our grandson, Jack. Ten hours later, Jack finally responded with a simple, “Thanks!”

Three minutes later Jack sent me another text that said, “Dad dead I can’t get water.”

To say I panicked is a tremendous understatement. I am not sure there is a word to describe how I felt at that moment. I immediately called my son’s cell phone. No answer. Then I tried calling his wife’s phone. No answer. I texted Greg and asked to him to call me immediately. Four long minutes later, my phone rang. It was Greg.

“Are you okay?” I blurted.

“Yes. Why?” he asked excitement filling his voice.

After my heart rate returned to a socially acceptable ratio I told him what had happened.

“We’re camping out in our backyard and I had asked Jack for water. Jack had used Siri and evidently Siri had added the one single word after Dad to the sentence,” Greg explained. Dead was the word Siri added. Why? I will never know. Neither will Jack nor Greg.

But, that one word made all the difference. I felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer and hit me across the chest with it.

If it ever happens again I may take a sledgehammer to Siri. So help me I will.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.

Pat Haley Contributing Columnist Haley Contributing Columnist