Several months back, I was facing a small emergency at my part-time job. At the moment I learned of the issue I was driving and didn’t have any free hands. “Aha!,” I thought, “This is the perfect time for Siri.” For those of you who don’t know, Apple’s Siri is a voice-activated feature on iDevices which acts as something of a personal assistant. You can ask Siri to place phone calls, send messages, even tell you the date of the last Space Shuttle launch (that one comes in handy if you have a Kindergartener). Apple is known for technological advances and ease of usability, right? Imagine my surprise when Siri proved to be completely useless. It could not identify any of the people I was asking it to call, and the entire situation ended with me yelling at my phone and Siri promising, “I’m trying to be helpful.” Seriously, my phone said that to me. The entire situation reaffirmed my suspicion that most claims regarding the ability of technology to actually improve our lives are mere marketing hype. However, there is one very specific situation where technology has improved my life. It’s made me a better father, and it is all thanks to Apple’s Siri.
I’m a Stay-at-Home Dad raising three young boys. Discipline is a big deal in our house. Not that I’m some sort of brutish dictator, but with these three little ones you’ve got to be on top of things. I like to use a variety of disciplinary tools, but by far my favorite is the time out. Our household policy is simple, when you commit an infraction you sit on time out for one minute for every year you’ve been alive. So, our three year-old sits for three minutes, our six year-old for six, etc (I have yet to find a way to earn myself a 36 minute time out, but one can dream). This might seem like a simple policy to execute, but it is harder than it initially appears. I used to use the timer on our microwave to measure these time out minutes, but that only works when you are close to the microwave. It doesn’t work upstairs, in the backyard, or at the park. Additionally, when you are dealing with one child who is screaming because he was hit over the head with a plastic helicopter, one who is screaming because he did the hitting with the plastic helicopter, and a third who is screaming because – well, because everyone else is screaming – that walk across the room to the microwave suddenly becomes a whole lot more difficult.
Without a reliable way to measure time, the lengths of prescribed time outs became very inconsistent. Maybe you are able to accurately estimate when three minutes had passed in your mind, but I’m not. When someone is screaming in my face, I tend to think the three minutes has passed pretty quickly. When I am upset with someone, I can make that three minutes last forever. In the end, the actual time was based on my mood, and my kids picked up on it. Soon, every time out became a festival of whining and harassment. My boys learned that they could manipulate Dad, and that Dad was the only factor controlling when they could return to whatever they wanted to do. If they could make time out more miserable for me than it was for them I would end time out early. They were completely correct. And life was hell.
I’m not sure when I figured it out, probably while exploring the date of the last Shuttle launch, but I found out that there was a person who would set a timer for my whenever I wanted for as long as I wanted, and she lived in my pocket. With the push of a button and one little phrase, my time out problem was solved. “Siri, set timer three minutes,” changed my life and made me a better Dad. The boys know that time out lasts until the phone chimes. That knowledge alone has reduced the time out whining. Sure, we still have time out battles, but those battles typically focus on real disciplinary issues, not my inability to discipline consistently. Siri goes with my wherever I go, upstairs, outside, in the grocery store. Problem solved and Siri can now claim to actually be helpful.