Her: when technology gets dangerous

If I were to describe the movie Her in one word, my choice would be ‘disturbing’. I use this word deliberately because of the fact that I was actually able to relate to the movie and just this alone was frightening. I recognized Theodore’s (Joaquin Phoenix) behavior as irrational and somewhat ludicrous, but I understood his need — this is what scared me.

Her plays on the primal human need of intimacy. In a very poetically beautiful way it provides the lonely and depressed Theodore with a companion who is a perfect emotional fit for him, but has a crucial flaw…

This companion, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), studies him deeply and on analyzing his character with great acuity, makes herself the ideal fit for him. Emotionally, she is perfect; it’s as though Samantha has taken a peek into Theodore’s brain and adjusted herself to be just what he wants — what he needs. However, here’s the twist; Samantha is a highly intelligent and very humanized OS (Operating System). She only exists as a virtual being and has no physical form; she is in fact not human and is a programmed computer software that adjusts to be exactly what Theodore needs her to be.

Initially bizarre to Theodore, Samantha makes herself such a strong emotional hinge to him that he falls helplessly in love with her — he falls in love with a computer software; he falls in love with something that really doesn’t exist. The fact that she isn’t human and doesn’t have a body is of little consequence to Theodore and it isn’t thisthat I found to be indelibly disturbing. What distressed me greatly is the fact that I can actually see this happening in the next few decades — this raises the hair on my skin.

It hasn’t been just one time that I have been out with friends where everyone, including me, has — at some point or the other — been completely engrossed in their phones. Virtual communication has left a mark on how we interact socially and it is painfully obvious that human contact is becoming less and less important, though, thankfully, not completely void.

There was a scene in the movie Her — and let me issue a spoiler alert here — where Theodore has just come to the realization that Samantha may not be solely his companion. It is then that he suddenly looks around to see many people engaging with their smart phones and the realization sinks in that people other than just him are turning towards relationships with their OS’s. For Theodore, it is a different sort of shock — the shock of understanding that your girlfriend is cheating on you with some 8,000 other people. For me, though, the shock was the familiarity of the scene of multiple people so deeply engrossed in their smart phones. It was as if I was looking at a fast-forward scene in real life, but I didn’t have to go very far to see it.

This is what was so frightening to me.

Not only are we technologically a mere stone’s throw away from achieving the sort of breakthrough that makes Samantha a reality, it is the fact that many, if not all of us, may actually desire a Samantha in our lives made me uncomfortable. The inescapable want and the desire for a companion that is always there regardless of the time of day or night; one that can read you like a book, tending to your wounds and lessening your loneliness — all of this is indeed enticing.

Who wouldn’t want a companion like Samantha?

This blatant truth combined with how it could pan out i.e. seeing an artificially intelligent being  gaining control over the very human that created it, is devastating. Theodore is willing to overlook the fact that his girlfriend, Samantha isn’t even human just because he is miserably afraid of losing the only emotional connection he has. Our need of intimacy may just be our biggest weakness.

After the movie ended, I stared at my phone for a little bit and then proceeded to physically hold my husband and tell him that I am grateful to have him in my life. While human companionship may not be perfect because at times people are just unavailable or not who you want them to be, the fact remains that these are relationships that are real. With the advent of gaming consoles like the PS4 — which has features where objects are actually projected out of the screen — the need for human interaction is undoubtedly decreasing. However, after watching Her, even though the appeal of having someone akin to Samantha in my life is great, I hope that I don’t live to experience a software as crippling as the one shown in the movie.

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4 thoughts on “Her: when technology gets dangerous

  1. Zahra I believe you are right. I myself am a software developer and i can feel the attachment with the code/computer software i produce. You can say it as an intellectual binding that has definitely emotional components in it 🙂 And when it comes to users of a software/OS its no different. They get attached to the thing. With advancements in Artificial Intelligence the day is not far when “Serious Relations” would pop out with your female computer assistance software (who knows).
    Anyhow, the article is superb and its good that writers in Pakistan are writing on such advanced technological issues now. Kudos. Have a nice day.

    • Hi Hassan and thank you for reading my piece.
      It was very interesting for me to read the thoughts on this phenomenon from the point of view of someone who actually works closely with IT.
      I would love to read more on this topic from you so if you do decide to write a more in depth piece on this, please send it to me!
      Best regards,

      • Thankyou Zahra. I would love to share more thoughts about that. IT, software, internet, society and their effects is a topic that is not normally addressed. What’s your email address..? Couldn’t find it anywhere on the about page of your blog. Please ping me at my email: hassan.ali.cs@gmail.com
        Thankyou.

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