Shanahan, Emily. Siri Alexa Cortana (Work Songs). 2018, https://vimeo.com/271158532.
“The big bee sucks the blossom,
and the small bee makes the honey.
The poor man throws the cotton,
and the rich man makes the money.”
- Alexa, do you get paid?
- It doesn’t matter, I love what I do.
- Siri, do you get paid?
- Well, I’d help you for nothing, the work is my reward.
–Siri Alexa Cortana (Work Songs)
Siri Alexa Cortana (Work Songs) is a video about the connections between technology, labor, and gender. In it, artist Emily Shanahan combines shots of a group of women braiding a bracelet, reciting weaving work songs, and having “conversations” with Siri, Cortana, and Alexa (Apple's, Google's, and Microsoft's digital assistants). The juxtaposition of traditional work songs that bluntly denounce exploitation and inequality and Siri's, Cortana's, and Alexa's always-pleasant-and-ready-to-help responses creates a dissonance that evinces the persistence of certain power dynamics and technology’s (a still predominantly male field) biases about the gender, race, and value of intimate labor. Digital mediation sometimes covers up assumptions about the feminine nature of care work and about “adequate” behaviors of certain subjects. This piece attunes its audience to these biases and expectations. In spite of Siri's, Alexa's, and Cortana's “disembodied” existences (they still have a voice) and their systematic evasion of questions about their gender identity, these digital assistants undeniably reproduce white femininity.