Siri: The must-have Christmas gift for multi-tasking moms

Petula Dvorak
Columnist November 24, 2011

In case you’re one of the people taking part in this American atrocity called Black Friday — made even more obnoxious this year by corporations that are beginning the retail orgy on Thanksgiving Day — let me stop you right here with a little shopping advice.

Women don’t want more slippers, bad perfume, scarves, gloves, hats or waffle irons, and despite what the commercials say, no jewelry, please. We can’t afford it anyhow.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

And we’re not buying that the ginormous HD, 3-D TV is for us.

What women really want this year is a cheeky little vixen named Siri.

“My new best friend,” “a blessing” and “loyal assistant” are the ways some women have described Siri, the new voice-controlled, personal assistant iPhone app.

Women want her. They covet her. They’ve even told me they “lust after her.” See: Twitter, #iwantsiri.

“I would love to have her,” Janet Vander Ley of Arlington County told me at the Clarendon Apple Store the other day. She looked at her sad, little iPhone 3, which will never house Siri. “My 16-year-old son has her. We got him the 4s. . . . He asks her questions all day long.”

What would Janet do with Siri?

“Oh, I know you could ask her to make reservations, schedule appointments, get directions,” she sighed. “She’d be so useful in my life.”

And yes, the app is a she. That was made quite clear to me by another woman in the Clarendon Apple Store, when I asked her how she liked “it.”

“Siri is a she,” said the woman, a federal worker and mother of two teens. “She’s my new best friend.”

Of course. Who else but a best friend would tell you, when you ask about the meaning of life, that “all evidence to date suggests it’s chocolate.”

Of course, a good deal of Siri’s energy will be spent answering questions like that.

Mostly, by men.

Late-night host Conan O’Brien made that point just a few days after Siri made her appearance, in a sketch that spliced Apple’s own scenes of women asking Siri to remind them to buy milk, or for directions to a hospital, with two recliner kings asking her to make “reservations for two at 7 p.m. between your [breasts]” and so forth.

Siri has a sense of humor designed to deal with these men’s persistently raunchy questions.

When dorks ask her to talk dirty to them, she responds: “Humus. Compost. Pumice. Silt. Gravel.”

Nice one.

And when she is asked, “What are you wearing?,” she responds, “Why do people keep asking me this?”

Obviously, this is designed to deal with Man Humor. Women, of course, would ask her who she is wearing.

But let’s get back to the purpose of Siri. A personal assistant.

Most men I talk to tell me that the utility of the app is underwhelming. Well, duh, for the most part, men don’t multi-task the way women do.

“She is terrific. I can make lists, she’ll remind me what to buy at the grocery store, she’ll help me keep it all going,” said Krista Reusche, a team manager at a tech recruiting firm in Arlington. She uses Siri to set up meetings, make calls and set reminders. “For women, it helps with organization; our nature is to be very organized on a lot of fronts.”

Women are multi-taskers. Ever really listen to a mom in the car or at her desk? She’s working on an earnings projections report while Googling “Barbie birthday cake,” calling the doctor to get Tommy’s foot wart removed and checking the weather to see whether the football game is still on. Who wouldn’t want a little help with all that?

“I had that. Her name was Azza. Azza beats Siri hands down,” said a skeptical Anne O’Leary, a retired foreign officer who is interested in Siri but not necessarily lusting after her.

Azza was her everything in Egypt, keeping O’Leary’s house, social life and business life running like clockwork.

“If you want that kind of help, someone who does everything to help you, you don’t get an iPhone. You have to move to a Third World country and pay above-market rates to get the best, the best help,” she told me.

That, apparently, is the only way to get a wife, which is actually what women want.

I have no shot at Siri anytime soon, having just pledged allegiance to another Android.

But there is hope for me: Iris!

Yes, it’s Siri backwards.

And yes, the app is basically like cubic zirconia. Sparkly, but not a diamond.

Where “Siri” sounds a bit exotic and sassy, “Iris” is probably a governess.

But a witty one.

One of Siri’s other answers to the “meaning of life” question is “42,” a science fiction reference to “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

When I ask Iris this question, she quips: “Actually, it’s 23, not 42.”

Pretty good. So I ask her to call my husband.

She calls Colleen. (Sorry, Colleen.)

When I ask her the man question about what she is wearing, she says, “I am wearing my usual plastic computer wardrobe.”

Of course, everyone’s not asking Iris what she is wearing.

I’ll give it some time. Iris is still in the alpha phase, and Dexetra is working on her.

Meanwhile, Siri fans already have a list of demands for her improvement. “If only she folded laundry,” one woman wished on an online parenting forum.

Not yet.

An editor friend of mine didn’t really need Siri to be a girlfriend. “Siri needs a diff voice — Barry White or something,” she said.

Ah, but Apple did figure this out in some parts of the world. Siri, it turns out, is a man in France.

Bien sur. And something tells me French women would also never, ever go to a Black Friday sale.

E-mail me with your Siri stories at dvorakp@washpost.com.

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