, Salem, MA


January 8, 2014

Watson: We are living online more and more


Theo excels at his job, writing wonderfully touching letters, which of course is an irony, considering that he is sad and lonely and has been unable to land a girlfriend.

In a blue mood, he turns to the Internet for distraction and is offered an “Intelligent Operating System,” a program designed to answer his questions, help organize his online files and generally keep him company. This IOS, a new product, will actually “evolve,” becoming smarter and smarter as it “learns” from its own lightning-speed data surveys and search history.

The IOS is triggered anytime by Theo’s voice, and it has a human voice of its own. Theo is delighted when he selects a woman’s voice and she — named Samantha — sounds beautiful and attentive (Scarlett Johansson).

Although he (and we) knows that Sam is a computer program, he cannot help but laugh at her jokes, be comforted by her and discuss topics with her. She is good company and reacts spontaneously to the life that she observes through his camera lens — as he takes her everywhere.

Things take a turn when Theo discovers that Sam is talking with 8,316 other users and in love with 641 of them. After all, they have had sex (you’ve got to see it), and he has fallen in love with her.

Simultaneously, Theo is finalizing a divorce agreement with his wife, and his best friend is divorcing her husband. The movie, which starts out solely as a description of imminent computer technology, slowly broadens into some investigation of love relationships.

The two topics are connected. For it is partially the enormous reliance on cyber-based communications that is changing a host of norms that used to guide both the standards and quality of human-to-human exchange. How we use emailing, texting, tweeting, instagramming, gaming and a whole host of smartphone capacities is changing our emotional and cognitive skills, our habits and our expectations.

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