Alexa

I was recently given an Amazon Echo for my birthday, you know, the gadget powered by ‘Alexa’ and was impressed with how useful it has been around the house. I can check the weather, play a news update while getting ready for work, and control the music around my house using my Sonos speakers. Immediately impressed, I also purchased a number of the cheaper Amazon Dots. After using Alexa for a few days I realized that there are so many health applications that I thought I’d share some of them with you. Although these don’t necessarily blow me away, I think we have seen the future.

Looking to exercise? You can just say Alexa, 7 minute workout and you’ll be told which exercises to do, and when you say ready, a timer will take you through 30 seconds of exercise. Plus you get prompts on your device.

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Got a Fitbit? Alexa will give you an update on stats including weight, steps taken, exercise goals, and sleep tracking.

Sounds too good to be true? I remember paying money for a clock radio that had a limited range of soundscapes that I would play to help me sleep. Now I can say Alexa, play sleep sounds and I have a range of regularly updated ambient noises to play. Rain, thunderstorms, crackling fireplace, wind chimes and more.

And while we are talking sounds, Alexa has meditation skills (yes, each of these free applications are referred to as skills). I can say Alexa, guided meditation and I’ll get a different daily guided meditation. Today’s meditation was 3 minutes of mindful breathing, and I have to say I was impressed.

Alexa has yoga skills too. I can say Alexa, ask Easy Yoga for an evening yoga and it guides me through 10-15 minute audio yoga routines by yoga teacher Annie Clarke.

How about health advice? Well, both Web MD and Mayo Clinic have Alexa functionality. As I am teaching sexual health I thought I’d ask Alexa, ask Web MD about symptoms for chlamydia and was given a basic response explaining what the infection was, how it was spread and how it is treated.

The Planned Parenthood website tells me that my nearest STI testing center is Austin Health Center. I can ask Alexa, what’s the number for Austin Health Center, I can also ask Alexa, is the Austin Health Center open? Then I can ask Alexa, how do I get to Austin Health Center AND….I can ask Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride!

Show me your skills. Among Alexa’s skills are the ability to five me a daily healthy habit by asking Alexa, healthy habit. The advice given is rather basic, but remember, I said I think we’ve seen the future. We aren’t there yet, but would imagine that in a few years this advice would be more personalized, and more valuable.

The Sun Proof skill allows me to ask Alexa, what’s the UV index? This might come in handy when I’m teaching outside and need a reminder to pack my sunscreen.

The Nutrition Label skill seems impressive as it lets me ask for popular nutritional information on almost any food I can think of. I asked Alexa, search Nutrition Label for a bowl of cheerios and was told that it has 153 calories, 2.2 grams of fat, 31 grams of carbohydrates and 3.6 grams of protein.

One cool function of Alexa is the ability to create lists and add things to those lists verbally. I can create a list called ‘Classroom Ideas’ and then send my self reminders which will show up on my device. I can say Alexa, add Jane McGonigals TED talk to Classroom Ideas or Alexa, add register for SHAPE Nashville to Classroom Ideas (have you registered yet?) and it will be stored until I delete it.

My podcast addiction. Although the range of podcasts available are a little limited right now, I can say Alexa, play me Code Switch podcast and it will play one of my favorite social justice podcasts for me. Similarly, any health books that I have stored on my Kindle can be read aloud, in addition to any Audible books.

So, you could say that I’m very impressed with my Alexa Echo and my Alexa Dots. Yes, viewing these through my health teaching lens I can ask wether the information provided is valid and accurate, but imagine if someone like the CDC supplied skills and we could access their vast range of materials. I also wonder how safe my information might be, particularly as this device now knows my location and my requests for chlamydia information. Is that data safe, or will I now see chlamydia drugs pop up in my social media feed, targeting me as a result of my Alexa requests?

I’ll say this though, with gift giving season upon us, you could do worse than treat someone, or yourself to one of these devices.

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