Flash Readings, Episode 4: “When I Talk to Siri”

Twilight Photo of Neon Red Varsity Diner Sign

Photograph by Chris Yunker, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the fourth Flash Reading, Brittain Fellow Halcyon Lawrence talks about why her Samsung phone won’t take her where she wants to go. This time she wants to find legendary Atlanta diner The Varsity, but Galaxy “has no specific answers” for her. Lawrence, who specializes in speech intelligibility and accent bias in the design of voice-interaction technology, observes that speech interactions are a “boundary . . . for which the rules of engagement are not clear.” She argues that the issue with technology’s accent bias is not merely a question of recognition and intelligibility. The problem is also with the character of the message the device sends back: “It’s no reflection of who I am.”

Producer and former Brittain Fellow Lauren Neefe (2014–17) situates her encounter with Galaxy in the context of the notable “talking book” episode in Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative (1789), and Lawrence describes the encounter’s relation to a larger research project on user attitudes toward the accents in their devices.

The podcast can be played using the embedded player above or downloaded as an mp3 file.

In the next Flash Reading, former Brittain Fellow Ruth Yow (2015–17) revisits the Supreme Court’s landmark 2007 decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District  No. 1. The impact of that decision on the integration strategies available to the communities served by the Marietta, Georgia, public schools is the subject of her book Students of the Dream: Resegregation in a Southern City, out next month from Harvard University Press.


Works Cited

Bugg, John. “The Other Interesting Narrative: Olaudah Equiano’s Public Book Tour.” PMLA, vol. 121, no. 5, 2006, pp. 1424–42.

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself. Edited by Angelo Costanzo, Broadview, 2001.

Lawrence, Halcyon M. “Beyond the Graphic User Interface: Speculations on the Future of Speech Technology and the Role of the Technical Communicator.” Rhetorical Speculations. Edited by J. Weakland and S. Sundvall, Utah State UP, forthcoming.

Lawrence, Halcyon M., A. Frazee, A. King, G. Lovatt, O. Menagarishvili, M. Miller, L. Neefe, S. O’Brien, H. Suh. “The Hidden Language Bias in Technology: A Discussion of Classroom Practices.” World Englishes Committee Roundtable, Apr. 2016, Writing and Communication Program, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA.


Music by Benjamin Shirley.

Recorded in the production studio at 91.1 FM WREK Atlanta.

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Lauren A Neefe

About Lauren A Neefe

Lauren Neefe is a lecturer in Georgia Tech's School of Literature, Media, and Communication, where she teaches multimodal courses on sound, Romanticism, and epistolary genres. Her scholarship focuses on Romantic media and genre, in particular the articulation of letter writing and poetry in print. She has an article on Romanticism and Conceptualism forthcoming in Jacket2.
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