Are we erasing humanity? I hope not.

Image via iStockphoto 4I wrote this blog post last year when I watched the three time Oscar nominated film Her. Her is a film in which Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a shy and lonely man who, due to his impending divorce, purchases a computer with a  talking operating system (OS). The OS is equipped with artificial intelligence, designed to progressively become more human-like. As time progresses Theodore becomes mesmerized by the OS’s ability (who he has taken to calling Samantha) to mimic human behavior, to the point where the two have deep discussions about life. He and Samantha fall in love.  As the relationship progresses, both he and Samantha develop feelings beyond primary emotions—they experience jealousy, and Theodore at one point even becomes upset when she goes “offline” with another OS to be upgraded. Upon Samantha’s return, he learns that she is not only the OS for thousands of other people, but has also fallen in love with hundreds of other humans. In the end, she leaves him to do her own thing in cyberspace. Lonely and sad again, Theodore goes to his friend Amy’s apartment to talk to her and finds that she, too is upset as her own OS has left her as well. The movie ends with the two sitting together on the roof of the apartment, smiling at each other, getting closer, and admiring the city lights.

My curiosity with this movie was to see how the director would address this need for people today to replace real human interactions with technology. Like everything else, technology hast both positive and negative effects. Technology makes our lives easier—more effective and convenient—that much is true. But I believe it has no place in replacing human interactions and that’s where our society will be headed if we don’t start making changes real soon.

Her’s premise is reminiscent of Internet dating. There are certainly some success stories (I personally know three couples who met on dating websites and ended up happily married), but most of the time, it seems like a disaster. Everyone I personally know who posted Internet dating profiles told me stories that were sad and sometimes astonishing. Throughout the years, I have interviewed many people who were involved with Internet dating, and conducted an informal online survey regarding participant satisfaction with the medium. The results I gathered indicated that, overall, 85 percent of the people participating in online dating were dissatisfied, 10 percent were somewhat satisfied, and 3 percent were satisfied or happy with their experience. Though this survey was informal, the results are still pretty telling.

I will state right now that I never particularly cared for Internet dating. I feel it erases humanity. I’m all for face-to-face contact. We live in an age where people have forgotten how to relate to each other, especially with this juvenile, texting crap. Everyone is wired to their iPhone®, Android®, or other device and it seems they can’t go anywhere without constantly peeking at it during meals, personal conversations, even while out on dates. So annoying! People are unable to resist checking in at the trendiest locations in town, or looking at their device to see if any new email has arrived or if anyone has responded to their Facebook® or Twitter® status. People are personally disconnected despite being electronically over-connected. It also seems as if there are more posers, players, and liars.  People on dating sites lie about everything: age, weight, location, even their profession. Or they massage it to make themselves look better. People also lie about their life in an attempt to create a certain impression. They’re all creating a world behind that computer wall where they have the original starring role and are mostly a façade.  There are even professional profile writers (like Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore) who will make sure that your profile makes you sound like someone everyone will want to meet.

I hear complaints from some women in my talks that men they are interested in no longer call—they text. The men also have their own complaints about finding it hard to get some women to commit to a real conversation. It can be challenging. It’s all about emails or texting. Then there are the people who say they’re “too busy”, so texting is convenient. If you’re answering the text then you’re not that busy and it doesn’t take too many seconds to pick up the phone to make a phone call and leave a message. Later on, the person on the other end can return the call. Since when have we become a society that can’t wait a few hours to have a phone call returned? What’s up with all this anxiety that needs an immediate response? In the olden days, people would leave a message at the person’s home answering machine and later in the day when that person arrived home, that’s when all the phone calls were returned.

Let’s rediscover the beauty of human interactions; let’s stop with all this fakery and hiding behind a technological wall. Let’s get back to basics and re-start truly reconnecting and behaving like the wonderful human beings we are supposed to be. Eye contact, face-to-face dialogue, exchanging of ideas in real time—these are all supremely important to human connections. Let’s nurture that and translate it into our romantic lives. I like to think that when Amy laid her head on Theodore’s shoulder in the film as they both admired the view, they finally realized that they were happy that they found each other: two human beings.

 

 

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