Say it isn’t so, Siri by Melissa Spiers, guest post

Quick: What is your gut reaction to the words “Please don’t make me”?  Don’t analyze and intellectualize it, don’t play devil’s advocate, just think about a pleading voice saying “please don’t make me…”  Does it bring to mind happiness, fun, and joking around?  To me, it conjures up images of rape, prisoners, child molestation, abductions, and worse (if there can be any worse…).
Ah but Apple seems to think it’s all fun and games with Siri, their voice-recognition iPhone ‘person.’  Among many questionable programming ‘response’ choices they have made a fun little game of badgering her with questions about herself.  If you get demanding enough in shouting “tell me about yourself!” you can force her to say “please don’t make me…”
To the inevitable backlash from commenters who will say “get a life, it’s just a joke, lighten up, they’re just having fun” I simply ask – is that a hilarious, jolly phrase to force out of anything, electronic or living, male or female, young or old?  If so, please let the rest of us in on the joke, because I don’t think anyone who has ever had to say those words finds much humor in them.

5 thoughts on “Say it isn’t so, Siri by Melissa Spiers, guest post

  1. Kristin Belz —

    It would be equally problematic if they’d made the voice uniformly male. “What, they don’t think women are worth listening to? They only think men are trustworthy?”

    I wish they had made it (or, optimistically, I hope they’re working towards making it) more fully customizable: Let each user decide whether they want the voice to be male, female, or more androgynous/less clearly-gendered; and let each user choose the name they want to use when addressing their phone.

  2. I agree, I hear you, but it’s also way little kids say sometimes. “Brush your teeth!” “please don’t make me….” yes? No?

    • Jennifer B.,

      Speaking for me, not Melissa who posted this, I thought about what you wrote and I’ve never once heard my kids say, “Please don’t make me.” They do say “No!” about brushing their teeth etc. That got me thinking, does anyone really say: please don’t make me? I can only think of the Briar Patch, which of course the rabbit wanted to go into. Which makes “please don’t make me” even creepier, the implication being you really want it, no means yes.


  3. to kristin, how is it sexist that they made siri a female? would it be sexist if they made her a male?
    you want it less gendered? that’s like a white person saying race is an illusion. gender exists. are you fighting the existence of gender, or are you fighting sexism and prejudice? you don’t have to eliminate gender to eliminate sexism. in fact, it’s quite counterproductive. siri sounds like a female because male computers have been portrayed as evil, as in HAL or wargames etc. That’s probably sexist against men, but you know what, there is real suffering in the world and I have bigger fish to fry. Siri has a female voice. I don’t see how that is offensive to women. Especially the millions of women who talk to her each day. She’s a helpful female voice. Is that a crime?

    and to the blogger, maybe we should never let anyone express that they enjoyed a meal, because it might freak out people with anorexia. or maybe we should never use the word “black” because it might offend african-americans who were called “black” by insensitive people? maybe we should teach all children not to say “make me” because rape exists.

    do you really think you’re going to prevent rape by stopping computers from voicing the phrase “make me”?

    is that the battle you’re choosing to fight?

  4. I’ve been wanting to sound off about that Siri “assistant” thing anyhow, so thank you for mentioning this. I’ll read the link, but had to comment right away how sexist it is that they’ve made the digital assistant a female, with name even (vaguely multiculti and exotic, even). in the UK, or is it all of Europe, evidently the voice is male – that people there would trust the male authority voice more. But here in the US, we like to have gentle sounding women helping us out at our beck and call. Amazing that this is happening in 2011. Apple could have come up with a way to do this in a less gendered way.

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