Discussion / Field Notes

“Her”: A Film about Technology or Humanity?

It was difficult to ignore The Golden Globe Awards this past weekend, since I was reuniting with friends and family in the award show’s historic host city of Los Angeles. Although entertainment news normally doesn’t make headlines here on Everyday Ambassador, I can’t help but celebrate the incredibly EA-esque film that earned three nominations and won Best Screenplay on Sunday night: Spike Jonze’s sci-fi/drama/romance “Her”.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, it’s on the top of our EA recommendation list, for reasons you’ll understand as soon as you watch the lonely main character, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), purchase an artificially intelligent operating system (think Siri-of-the-future) who calls herself Samantha.

No spoiler alerts here! We won’t reveal any of the plot twists and turns, but the core themes of the movie are fascinating even if you have only watched the trailer:

On first glance it seems that the script’s 21st century dilemma focuses on the humanization of technology: can someone have a real relationship with a machine? Do we become addicted to technological tools like Samantha only because they provide what most humans can’t, like unconditional and uncomplicated convenience and companionship?

Yet when we think about the general plotline – a recently divorced man living a paradoxically isolated urban lifestyle falls in love with his tech (something so many of us claim to do) – is this movie really about technology becoming too human? Or is it about a man struggling with his own humanity?

Given the rare human interactions in a plot dominated by Theodore-Samantha’s human-digital dialogue, it is clear that Theodore lives an isolated life in which human connection seems more difficult to attain than ever before. If we put ourselves in his shoes, it is understandable how he falls for his OS: she gives him nearly instantaneous, continuously updating, highly personalized, perhaps even perfect, attention and affection. 

But what would happen if we got too caught up in such a world? Would we lose our capacity to ‘deal with’ the less convenient, more unpredictable human relationships in our life? Would it make us even more isolated from other human beings? Or would it give us an opportunity to feel less alone? To sharpen our communication skills? To understand ourselves better, through the machine’s ability to know us?

The most beautiful relationship of the movie to analyze is of course that between Theodore and Samantha, the love that grows between them and their struggles to figure out how to express and live that love, and if it’s even possible. Though these characters are portrayed as man and his machine object (or technology and her human subject), the film uses them to fully explore the complexity of building and maintaining and understanding our human relationships.

Everyday Ambassador finds this film deeply relevant to the discourse about “humanity vs. technology”, and the benefits and dangers of being endlessly digitally connected. Here on EA we discuss regularly the ways in which human relationships are difficult to build, bridge, and maintain, especially when we come from different backgrounds, hold different opinions and life experiences, and may not even speak the same language. The Everyday Ambassadors who share their stories with us commonly reflect on the need for empathy, patience, commitment, and humility – qualities that can often begin to feel less accessible as we become more accustomed to digital convenience.

Rather than suggest simply that it is problematic to be obsessed with technology (to the point of literally falling in love with it), “Her” dives far deeper into the issue, giving it the detailed analysis it deserves: exposing the benefits, the dangers, and the yet-unanswerable questions.

Once you watch “Her”, we invite you to let us know your own review!

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2 thoughts on ““Her”: A Film about Technology or Humanity?

  1. Pingback: Humanity and Technology in Film “Her” | Adaptive Altruism

  2. I saw “Her” on Monday with my 18 year old daughter, whose AP English class will be discussing the movie. One question they will consider is whether it represents a utopia, or a dystopia. I enjoyed the movie very much, particularly the rich, beautiful technology and architecture. (I especially like the elevator!) In the beginning of the movie, Theodore is so sad and disconnected, and it appears that he is surrounded by similar lonely people, in the midst of the beautiful yet aseptic city. Then new technology becomes available and little by little Theodore’s world becomes brighter, and the people around him seem similarly lifted.
    Technology is at its best when it enhances the ability of people to communicate, create and connect. The smart phones and tablets we have today allow us to keep up with friends, to read, watch and learn from an unlimited assortment of media, and to share our thoughts with abandon. Yes, it is possible to block out the world around us and only see our screens, but I find that the opposite is more often true for me: that I see through the window of my screen a world that is more complex and beautiful, and I meet people who are doing exciting things or facing incredible challenges. Most amazingly, from my small place on the planet it is possible to learn about and then participate in events in my community or across the globe. As technology improves, it gets easier to join in. The movie imagines further enhancements, and explores new opportunities and challenges.
    Ultimately the film reminded me that the best interactions occur between people, face to face, and ideally outdoors. The similarities that humans share makes it easy for us to relate. Technology is a tool to facilitate these experiences – not an end in itself.

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