I use my cell phone almost all day. I am constantly reading, searching, texting, communicating, and playing with it. I try to dedicate at least an hour a day where I am not within five feet of it. And that is hard. I want to play music out of it or do something at all times. I find it to be the most important gadget I have ever owned. The only thing that I don’t do on it is write. I go to my desktop computer for that as I find the keyboard and the large monitor refreshing.
I wake up with the phone feet from my face. I shower, watch WGN Morning News, and jump into my car where it speaks to my phone through Bluetooth technology to let me listen to a podcast or Pandora. When I get to work, I may text on occasion, but my eyes are glued on my two screen setup, unless I have to write on paper or I’m in a meeting. I jump back into the car where it resumes playing whatever I was listening to 8 hours earlier. I get home and turn my desktop computer on or the television on and have my phone in my hands or within a few feet of my fingers. And when I go to bed, I set my sleep app to track my movements. It’s a totalitarian device – from cradle to grave. Yet five years ago, I did not even have a Smartphone. Today, it is the thing I grab if I have a minute of downtime.
Her plays on this phenomenon. Within a course of a generation, we went from dial-up connections and chat rooms to constant Wi-Fi and apps. Spike Jonze envisions a world where we have a “friend.” The extent of that friend seems to depend on the needs of the individual and the person sets the limits. But as you see people walk around, everyone is talking to themselves. There is not a group of people who travel together in the entire movie. There are couples but they seem strange in the world. They are almost unsettling.
I posit that that is the point of the movie. Personal relationships are unsettling and we fear that reality in an age where we don’t have to interact that way. We can telecommute to the office, ask Siri questions, be rejected by a potential suitor with a computer screen between you, and IM/text all night long. If we didn’t have physical needs, I wonder how many people would explore the world.
We have all had the experience where we are at a restaurant and we notice a child playing with a device and someone will comment on how bad it is for the child. We have all had the experience where a group of people will sit down and immediately start playing with their devices instead of interacting with each other. We have all seen two people walk by us in what seems like a pairing but they are talking to two separate individuals through their phones or listening to separate music. Her shows us why we are uncomfortable with all of this when we see it but we don’t notice it when we live it. It is an uncomfortable movie, but within minutes of it ending, I saw three people turn their phones on.
Joaquin Phoenix’s character longs for his soon-to-be ex-wife and the past they shared, but at the same time, he has changed his entire perspective on what he needs based on this devastating event. He writes letters for other people for a living because everyone has disconnected from their feelings. He dreams of his wife but stays in his home playing video games, talking to strangers through his computer, and eventually falling in love with his OS. No matter how much you may have liked Windows XP, I will assume you didn’t have sexual feelings about it.
When I began dating, I used online programs and the first thing I noticed was that the same people seemed to have joined all of them. They seemed to not even want to move past the stage of chatting in emails. They would flirt with me and put butterflies in my belly but then disappear. A few months later, they may return. In some instances, they remembered talking to you but I assume that was because they didn’t delete their chat history. They lived online and continually looked for something more because the Internet provides you with a cornucopia of options. In theory, there is no end to what you can get or expect to get. There is always something coming around the corner. And perfection exists – and we must find it.
There is a subculture of digital personalities so we create our own image of perfection. We craft a persona on Facebook, Twitter, dating sites, and other online arenas. Many of us like to put positive feelings out there about our lives, children, houses, and jobs. We express all of the best of our lives. Others love to dwell on the negatives and use Facebook and Twitter as a release. But we craft what we want to say very carefully. We respond to certain people but not others. I think we love having such control in the image we put forward. We love having a group of people to commiserate with and to join in our joys.
Her gives us our own individual promise of what we perceive Facebook to give us. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) gave Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) someone he felt he could trust unconditionally though he had no reason to believe that. She was created based on his desires and conditions. She was created for him just like we create our online persona for ourselves. I believe that is why Amy (Amy Adams) has an OS who is a best friend for her and someone that she was left by her husband who left her for a simpler life.
I love the Internet. I love that I have a place to post what I write. I love that I can then post this to Facebook. I know I am walking into a trap though. I know what is new and exciting today will be useless tomorrow. One day, Facebook will be a deserted island with all of these pictures and posts looking like the remnants of the Minoan culture. And I will want to write and be apart of the next thing. I would buy an OS to be my friend. I just hope I don’t lose sight of my real friends. I just hope I don’t lose sight in the reality of life and not the perfection that we have come to expect from the Internet and our online personas. Because even what you think is perfect today may not be tomorrow. And shockingly, there is nothing wrong with that flux.
Horrible things happen to people and they can happen to them without 100 people seeing the melancholy and expecting cheering up. Great things will happen to you in your life where there will be no one to celebrate or “like” it. You will fall in love. You will lose love. You will regain love. But most of all you will grow. You will fail and you will be hurt by people.
But if you want to live in a world where no one is hurt, then online is perfect for you because you can choose to ignore the hurt and the loneliness. You can try to find a little perfect corner where you will succeed – but it isn’t real. It isn’t life and it will never be perfect. It will shift and it will change. And you will need to know how to honestly react to it. It won’t just be logging off.