Technology: A Love Story

Post preface: For the next few months, Books, Birdies, and Earl Grey will be doubling as a “learning blog” for one of my media classes. Most of my blogs will stick to book discussion, but may look more scholarly in nature.

“Social media, online platforms, digital technologies, and collaborative networks have fundamentally changed the ways in which we socialize, amuse ourselves, learn about the world, conduct public affairs, and above all, do business” (CFF 69).

We are a technology dependent society. From the Internet, to cell phones, we build our lives around the latest technological advances and gadgets and have increasingly sacrificed face-to-face communication for the sake of texting, Facebook, and other social media platforms. It’s almost as if we all have relationships with our (insert technology here). As the quote from Misunderstanding the Internet cited above suggests, the Internet and other advanced technologies are rapidly changing how we view and participate in the world around us.

This is perhaps best exemplified in Spike Jonze’s new film Her. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, here is the trailer. This and several others can be found on YouTube.

Within the first 15 minutes, I was blown away by how closely our present day society mirrors the slightly futuristic world depicted in the film (minus the high-waited pants and pleats, thank goodness). As Mark Kermode from the Guardian suggests in his review of the film, many people already engage in some of the activities Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) does in the film, making this film’s premise not as “out there” as it may seem.

Kermode also points out that Theodore’s interaction with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) makes him increasingly more anti-social: “As he falls for Samantha, so Theodore withdraws from the world…the last thing on earth Theodore wants is human touch.” Could this be where our society is headed? To world completely devoid of human-to-human interaction? It doesn’t seem that far-fetched—which is somewhat unnerving to believe. For three days after watching this film, I made a deliberate attempt to limit the amount of time I spent on my phone and computer. I really was afraid of becoming too dependent on these inanimate objects, even more so than I already am.

But perhaps what makes Her, or any film about technology or artificial intelligence, particularly jarring is the idea that these gadgets are becoming increasingly closer to passing the Turing Test developed in the 1950s. These machines are beginning to “think” on their own. Just look at the way your computer can remember your latest Google search and start to personalize the ads you see on various websites or the way Siri can detect patterns in your voice to better understand what you say. For all its fantasy and futurism, the world depicted in Her really isn’t that far away if our dependence on technology continues to grow.

Whether this heightened dependence on technology will be good or bad, however, is a question we must wait to answer.