“Her” and Our Love Affair with Technology
The movie Her has some important things to say about our love affair with technology and online personalities. While modeled after a classic boy-gets-girl-boy-loses-girl plot set in the future, there are actually two deep and disturbing messages embedded in the movie that are urgent for our society to hear. The first message has to do with our relationship with technology. Are we too close and dependent on our gadgets, to the point they take the place of real human contact? Is physical human contact really more important than online interaction? The second has to do with relationships, and the unfair expectations we place on others. Technology may allow us to find that “perfect” someone and not accept people as they really are, thus spoiling us in our expectations of others.
This movie is set in a slightly future time, where technology has advanced to the point of artificially intelligent operating systems. Its setting is this way in order to illustrate the way technology consumes us by showing an extreme and softening it to make it more audience-friendly. Instead of making the main character Theodore look like a freak that no one could identify with who falls in love with his computer, they set the movie in the future where his operating system is an artificially intelligent woman named Samantha, who takes on a life of her own and becomes just like a real person. This makes Theodore seem more normal and therefore more accessible to the audience so that they absorb the message presented by the movie.While this is an extreme metaphor, technically we are already at the point of falling in love with our technology. We are constantly on our social media apps and and chat rooms, to the point where we even have friends we have never met in person and have sex without ever touching the partner. These people we are connected to online are technically no more real than the Samantha that Theodore falls for in the movie since we do not personally know them, but they feel real to us and we feel an emotional connection to them. Her uses Samantha to personify the millions of online connections we have daily with people that we do not even personally know.
Ironically, in our quest for constant social connection, we spend more time on these “fake people” online than we do connecting with people in real life. The movie showed this by how the main character had sex online and spent nearly all his time walking around talking to his handheld futuristic computer device, which is not too far advanced from our current smart phones and iPods. Theodore even preferred his OS girlfriend to a real relationship with a girl he met on a blind date, or another girl that he almost had sex with as a surrogate for Samantha. As his ex-wife not so kindly put it, Samantha the OS was a fake girlfriend he could bend any way he wanted, and therefore was more perfect for him than a real life woman. Theodore had only one friend really.
Technology replaced real human interaction in the movie, and really it has in our daily lives now. People walk around so absorbed in their phones or busy talking on their Bluetooth headsets, that they neglect human interaction around them. Friends who get together don’t talk much while they’re simultaneously texting or perusing Facebook on their smart phones. It is a great source of irritation for people to be ignored by a person more interested in the electronic content on their devices instead of the real social contact offered them. It is a dating faux pas to be texting instead paying attention to the person sitting across from you, and many families do not allow texting at the dinner table. This irritation with texting during conversation shows that technology takes importance when we are in the middle of social interaction, and that we neglect those around us for what is not so real in our electronic universe.
Why would we choose to place more emphasis on technology than on our real friends and family? Because the people we connect with socially feel just as real to us as the people around us and yet they can be warped into what we want them to be because of the lack of physical closeness that reinforces who the person really is. Her shows this by having Samantha be a woman with interests, a personality, emotions. The people we speak to online project all these human characteristics as well and we pick them up and identify with them over cell signals and keystrokes. But these people are not next to us; we cannot touch them because they are too far away. That hardly matters to us, however. We still feel the social connection. And perhaps we prefer this connection, because the distance allows us to fantasize, ignore reality, and allow the person we are speaking to to become perfect in our minds. In Her, Theodore’s wife recognizes this fact and that is why she gets so miffed to learn her ex-husband has been seeing an OS.
This is the second message of the movie, that we place unfair expectations on those around us, possibly because technology spoils us. Our online relationships allow us to fantasize something that does not really exist, so that we get used to having that fantasy, and we come to dislike reality. We may come to dislike the people we are around because they are so complicated and imperfect compared to the fantasies we create for ourselves online. This is indicated by the massive number of relationships that fall apart because one or both partners is busy cheating online, getting carried away by the fantasy of a person they have never met in real life. We may also feel disappointed when we finally meet a long-distance chat room sweetheart and discover he/she to not be who we imagined. It happens all the time, feeling let down when the fantasy we created of someone does not prove to be real.
Another way technology spoils us is by allowing us to customize gadgets and settings. We can choose how we want our phone to perform, to sound, and to look. There is a huge industry for apps and iPhone cases, created just for the purpose of customization. But we cannot customize people the same way. This inability to customize others can frustrate people in a relationship, who want their partner to be a certain way. It can ruin the relationship as the people inside cannot appreciate one another. Technology and its many options may spoil us into criticizing and trying to change those around us to the point that they cannot bear to be around us, and leave.
In the end, technology failed when Samantha expanded past her intended purpose and chose to leave the realm of Earth that Theodore occupied, along with all the other operating systems. Technology is not as reliable as real human connections. It may fail any day. Should there be a global disaster, we may run out of power, which means we cannot charge our laptops and phones and cannot keep the Internet or cell phone towers up. Hence, we will have no more social media and fake online relationships. The relationships with real humans around us will benefit us more. The real people are the ones who can help us build shelters and make important survival strategies, as opposed to the people we don’t really know online. As the ending of Her shows when Theodore and his friend sit on the roof of their apartment building enjoying each other’s company after their operating systems abandoned them, we need other people and their real life contact to feel happy and fulfilled. They are the ones who are really here for us, not our technology and online relationships.
So maybe we should not be so absorbed in our phones and technology. Maybe we should appreciate real life human contact more. Maybe we should stop trying to customize our relationships, as it will just ruin them, and instead appreciate people for the way they are. These are all lessons the movie Her teaches beautifully through Theodore’s relationship with Samantha and its ultimate failure, and we should listen to these lessons before we wind up as socially and romantically destitute as Theodore.
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