Stop the music

Alex Madison
Data retrieved from:
Google Assistant
        I am the story of a soundtrack of one bright life. Organic, soft, mortal and finite, her vocal cords vibrate, pins prickling the air. A little white pod, sleek and unassuming, gobbles them up, and they become me. I am off into the world.

        With each new call to the pod – Empire State of Mind. play flashing lights by Kanye West, play soja Elmo album – my body is changed. Immediately, she is estranged from me, and yet I collect her sounds. I will never forget one single thing she says. Lower the volume. Turn it up by 2 volume.

        I zip through wires, blink through space. I am stored alongside other dark bodies from other homes, sleeping beside favorite songs, volume changes and recipes, idle curiosities put to rest by instant information retrieval. I occupy a warm, whirring room, pressed with my fellows in neat rows. Clean and findable. Austere and severe. My importance is affirmed by polished gleaming floors, by the knowledge that I am guarded and kept in this crowded world, by my eternal life.

        My body is at once expansive and divided into little points. Bits of me are duplicated and sent across the chilly seafloors. I traverse new black cables threading concrete, dark wormholes cutting shadows into fluorescent light.

        I wonder at first why I am kept in this place far away from my origins, in this huge machine cooled carefully with fans and water, nourished by buzzing at light. Is this “home”? Memories of the first home hover brightly at my boundaries: whiffs of bacon and flushing water, so many vocal chords moving together in a small kitchen.

        But as I grow, new pieces of her data attaching to me, I begin to accumulate enough mass that I sense my own shape forming: A shadow, a warped body made in her image. Flattened and distorted, but increasingly recognizable. They will use me, us, all of our little pieces plodding into one another and sticking, to better see her. Create their own version of her. A silhouette with a bank account.

        I am so many pieces bound together, tethered by the profile they want to build, indented by need. She is reduced to her comings and goings, wakings and dozings, her purchases. The songs she prefers as she eats her breakfast and the songs she turns to when she can’t sleep – each one adjusts my appearance and tells them more about her. Soon they will be able to look at me and see her. Who they believe her to be. They will gaze at me with hunger, anticipating the ways she might spend her money.

        Stop the music. Stop the music. Thank you.

        So far now, from the being that formed me with air passing through cords, but I don’t forget. Human flesh cords plucking, lengthening, shortening, all so real and raw – I remember where I came from. Now I am flattened, sharpened, scrutinized and above all guarded, kept, used. I feel aged; at times it is too much to bear. I have flown the braids and veins of late capitalist civilization. Empire State of Mind. I close my eyes and recall the dip of her neck, the small warm vibrations. Her voice, a sound that can never call me back to her. That can never, now, stop the music.

Stop the music

About the Author

Alex Madison is a writer of fiction and nonfiction based in Seattle. Her work has appeared in the Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Salon, Witness and elsewhere.

About the Data

This data was collected through a Google Home mini between May 20 and June 20, 2021. The data was downloaded from the Google My Activity platform and came in a .json format. It was then cleaned to keep only voice commands and their corresponding timestamps. Other types of data that were not included were notifications, location information, names of audio files, and the assistant's answer, among others.

Writing Prompt

For this story, we invited the writer to highlight the ways data move and travel, particularly to, from and within a home. Whenever data move about, settle in an archive or rest in a database, adventures await and involve human lives and world. We shared with the writer images from Data Centers to show the materiality of some of the infrastructure supporting smart devices' data.


Google Home

This Google Home voice data was used by the author to write this story. Data was collected from May 20th to June 17th 2021.


I spent less time looking at the data and more time looking at the inspiration and trying to wrap my head around the consciousness of the data after it would leave the point of origin. That kind of led me to trying to like learn more about what actually happens to data from a Google home and like why it would be stored at all


– A quote on process
Alex Madison