Anyone ask for an Amazon Echo for Christmas this year? A Google Home for Chanukah? Some sort of talking toddler gadget that demands more batteries than the brain cells it burns? There was a time — long ago, maybe — where toys required imagination to walk around the room, and we opened a paper to find the movie section, not asked a speaker-like thing on the counter what time Rogue One is playing at the local theater. It's the age of automation, where Siri is a friend, friends are just on Facebook, and time — despite all these convincers that are supposed to help us reclaim it — never seems to allow us to spend any with our actual human, real-life friends.
"My life has been so lucky, the package is arrived," sings Neil Young on "My New Robot," off his Peace Trail LP. "I got my new robot, from Amazon dot com." The song starts as Young tends to do — with analog harmonica — and ends with computer chatter a la Radiohead's "Fitter Happier": There's a love story somewhere, but perhaps more with an object than a person. The line, these days, is surely thin. Peace Trail, written primarily in reaction to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, is full of seething political rage. But "My New Robot," the last song of the collection, is almost silly in Young standards — it's about misguided attention, the emptiness of a programmable world, and a generation who no longer knows how to use their hands for anything but swiping and clicking. Before you "power on" this holiday, think twice about letting a computer dictate your own wishes. With 37 albums down, Young's advice is worth heeding. Real mothers are just as good as motherboards, afterall.