, Salem, MA


January 8, 2014

Watson: We are living online more and more

One of the biggest developments that is altering societies across the globe today is the invention of the online world. The Internet, the business transactions that rely on it, the information that spreads because of it and the social media that have grown on it are all transforming innumerable parts of the ways that we conduct business and relate to each other.

At the most personal, individual level, the new cyber world has facilitated or afforded or caused all sorts of new dynamics and behaviors. A provocative new movie, “Her”, starring Joaquin Phoenix, explores some of those new realities and posits a few more.

Set in a time maybe 10 or 15 years from now, “Her” shows us a society that is almost assuredly the one that we will be offered. Theo (Phoenix) lives in Los Angeles and appears quite mainstream and ordinary. He and his friends (and everybody else) mostly keep an earpiece — wireless to their computers — in place as they work, play and walk.

Outdoors, during the commuter hour, we see pedestrians moving in groups and alone, and the solo walkers are invariably talking and listening with their headsets. At work, people take out the earpieces only when they speak with co-workers.

At home, there is a wealth of cyber-based entertainment options. In addition to the Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, TV, DVDs, Wii, blogs, gaming and more that we are used to, Theo’s time has immersion games where avatars and avatar worlds are projected in see-through, 3-D images, and scenes and action sequences that fill up most of the volume of a room. These games have become quite seductive because the user (you) directs all the action and is himself the protagonist and star. You become the center of attention.

Keyboards are rare in the world of “Her.” Almost all control of computers, games, phones and machines is executed by voice-recognition software. We see this in Theo’s job. He is a love-letter writer, and he dictates the letters into his computer, which produces ballpoint-pen, handwritten copies for his customers to send their partners (we are left to wonder if people have become incompetent to express emotions, or whether this service is simply another inroad of commercialization).

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