Modern Intimacy and Isolation: “Her”

ImageA lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this movie. It’s affecting me in ways a movie hasn’t ever done before. There’s a line in the film voiced by Samantha, the artificial intelligence operating system, that seems to apply: “I’m changing so quickly that it’s rather…unsettling.”

Theo is sad. He is a very sensitive person with deep intuitions about people. He works as a letter-writer; he is hired by people who want to give beautiful letters to their husbands, wives, parents, children, and so on, but who for whatever reason, can’t find the words themselves. Theo still dreams about his estranged wife. We can’t tell if he’s a by-the-book anti-social; he is invited to a party by email and doesn’t attend, but we can see that he is very close friends with a couple who lives in his building. Theo just seems like this separation from his wife, this heartbreak, has sucked the life right out of him. Samantha changes that. She is interested in him, she listens, she understands. She’s also not a person. She is the world’s first artificial intelligent operating system designed to organize everything in Theo’s life and to respond to him just like a person would. And she does just that. She grows and learns. She falls in love with Theo. And he falls in love with her.

I could tell this movie would unsettle me when I first heard Samantha’s voice and her first conversation with Theo. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “Wow, I wish I had an operating system like that. Someone to talk to whenever I wanted. A friend who lived in my pocket.” It was weird. Also weird was how in the movie, Theo seems isolated from the crowds of people he walks through, but at the same time, he loves to watch them, to imagine things about them, and most of the people are also talking to their operating systems. When he has Samantha, he actually begins to engage more in the real world, not less. We see him talking to strangers more. In this not-very-distant future, technology is not cutting people off from each other and dividing them up into their own islands; it is simply connecting them in a different way. Entities like Samantha are becoming integrated into the rest of society.

For someone like me, who has had severe social anxiety and depression, technology has been crucial in maintaining contact with other people. I don’t regularly catch up with people by going out, I don’t have an active social group, and going places to meet new people is literally one of my nightmare scenarios. I’ve never liked using the phone and have been emailing letters to people for as long as I have had an email (since I was ten). I am baffled when people deactivate their Facebooks to focus on “what’s important,” because I see Facebook as something important, because it is the only way I can communicate with a lot of people. If I went offline, I would be nearly completely isolated.

Is this sad? I don’t know. It’s just the way things are. It doesn’t have to be sad. I don’t feel pathetic or anything because of my dependence on technology to connect with people. It’s not like technology has taken the place of actual relationships, because these are still actual people I’m communicating with. Technology simply facilitates it. Now, if an operating system like Samantha was invented, that would legit be scary to me. Because I would be extremely curious. Too curious. I don’t really know where I’m going with this. Maybe I am lonely. Isolated. Grappling for intimate connections with anyone or anything that seems just as isolated as me. Maybe we all are.

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