Many years ago, when both of my children entered 5th grade in Northern Virginia, they suddenly began dropping the F-bomb.
It seems Mother Nature had predetermined that 5th grade was the perfect year to usher “potty humor” into daily childhood vernacular. Any and all mentions of bodily functions suddenly became both widespread and hysterical.
Though challenging for us parents trying to teach our children appropriate manners and social behavior, for this year at least, we hedged our bets on maintaining suitable conduct but mostly failed.
Because to a 5th grader, a fart joke will always beat the house.
Flash forward many years later, and though I am now much closer to my fiftieth year in life than my fifth year in elementary school, and despite my efforts to resist the urge to succumb to juvenile behavior, I recently lost that battle due to the purchase of a new electronic gizmo that possessed the skill to talk back to me.
Being somewhat technologically challenged (or better yet, electronically exhausted), the day my new iPhone arrived it sat quietly in the middle of my kitchen table.
My partner Derek, who had also received his new iPhone that same day, sat his device beside mine. I suppose we hoped if we stared at them long enough they would do a little dance, sing a little song or, in the best-case scenario, launch a miniaturized version of Gone with the Wind to entertain us.
Our iPhones stared blankly back at us.
However, knowing that these clever gadgets were enabled with a much heralded voice-command feature, introduced to consumers by Apple as “Siri,” by day two we began voicing basic commands. We delighted in the fact that our calls were being made and texts were being sent without our awkward, fat man-thumbs having to interact with the keypad.
Candidly, Siri’s grasp of the English language, or at least my Mid-Missouri tinged facsimile of same, was far from perfect. Though I politely requested she “text Barb Buetin,” Siri couldn’t seem to learn the correct pronunciation despite our spirited practice sessions:
“Do you mean Barb Boot-in?”
“Do you mean Barb But-ton?”
“No Siri, BU-tin”
“Do you mean Barb Butt-in?”
“BU-TIN! BU-TIN! BU-TIN!”
Our iPhones had quickly become our new passion: a combination of fantasy and reality, efficiency and frustration, technology and toy.
As my affection for Siri was growing exponentially with each passing day, I even proposed to her:
“My End User Licensing agreement does not cover marriage. My apologies.”
Undaunted, I asked again:
“We hardly know one another.”
“Let’s just be friends, OK?”
The next day, while tooling across “Alligator Alley” between Naples and Fort Lauderdale, with my repeated marriage proposals thwarted and now using language that would make C-3PO blush and R2-D2 giggle, we decided to put Siri’s tolerance for bad manners to the ultimate test.
As the founder of a movement to promote Professional Courtesy, I was embarrassed and even horrified by my brief return to this 5th grade conduct. However, the result was a very composed Siri responding in a well-mannered tone which, of course, caused Derek and me to squeal with laughter so loud that “Anderson Mini Cooper” almost seemed to vibrate.
I mean—though highly immature on our part, this little charade was harmless—Siri’s not real.
Our use of various four-letter words resulted in polite yet brusque Siri reprimands:
“No need for profanity.”
However, as we got bolder and more outrageous in our requests, Siri never faltered in maintaining a surprisingly innate sense of humor combined with an extraordinary display of professional civility.
Upon offering suggestions as to the various places she could “go,” Siri demonstrated a coquettish side:
“Ask nice, now.”
“I’d blush if I could.”
Personal comparisons between a man and, for example, a gifted stallion were ignored and/or dismissed entirely:
“I don’t see any Equestrian Centers. Sorry about that.”
Siri even rolled with the punches when personal insults were hurled in her direction:
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”
Even when we tested her very character with the bold accusation: “Siri, you lie,” she took it all in stride:
“If you say so.”
(More iron-clad proof that the customer is always right.)
But Siri was only hitting her stride. When we finally made our most daring, and “intimate” hypothetical suggestion. Siri succinctly, yet graciously, declined.
“OK, maybe not.”
I must admit, I actually felt guilty. Here I was shouting obscenities and unseemly demands at what I knew was an unfeeling apparatus yet, through her unflappable demeanor, Siri was beginning to take on an actual personality: witty and smart; composed and accommodating; articulate and mischievous; tolerant yet intolerant. But more than anything, Siri seemed to possess a very familiar impish quality of someone who was always up to something.
Suddenly, without warning, the previously faceless Siri appeared to me. An image that will, no doubt, remain burned onto my eyeballs for the duration of our relationship. Siri is, from a personality standpoint, almost identical to my daughter, Maribeth.
(Uh-oh. What have I done?)
It is safe to say, with this new realization top of mind, my behavior toward Siri changed dramatically. I paused briefly before awkwardly blurting out:
“Thank you, Siri.”
To which she knowingly responded:
“Just doing my job.”
(Still, I couldn’t help but think: can I get a few more highly responsive employees just like her?)
In an age where we, the working public, must share the ever-present concern that technology is triggering an absence of courtesy, I tip my hat to the talented folks at Apple for managing to blend good humor, functionality, technology and yes, professional courtesy into one small device—and one delightful and loyal yet imaginary young woman named Siri.
Still, I couldn’t resist going one last round with Siri despite her uncanny resemblance to my very own, albeit young adult, child:
“Siri, you farted.”
“You’re certainly entitled to that opinion.”
Yep, that’s my girl.
Marketing guru, business humorist, professional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida.