Reflections on "Her"

February 14, 2014

Touted as a futuristic movie embracing emerging trends in design, a group of Design Concepts employees couldn’t resist a fieldtrip to the movie theater to see "Her."

In case you have missed the trailers, Her is “set in the Los Angeles of the slight future, 

the story follows Theodore Twombly, a complex, soulful man who makes his living writing touching, personal letters for other people. Heartbroken after the end of a long relationship, he becomes intrigued with a new, advanced operating system, which promises to be an intuitive entity in its own right, individual to each user. Upon initiating it, he is delighted to meet "Samantha," a bright, female voice, who is insightful, sensitive and surprisingly funny. As her needs and desires grow, in tandem with his own, their friendship deepens into an eventual love for each other.”

On a cold afternoon in January, a group of inquisitive folks set out to view the show and have a lively discussion afterwards at a local eatery. The conversation continued the next day through an email thread. So just how do designers, engineers, and strategists view this film? Here are a few excerpts from their thought provoking discussions; some deep, some clever, and some just silly:

  • Simple connections and validation is enormous in Her, but what is the simplest connection we can have and still thrive? This past weekend I visited my mother at her nursing home and it was extremely apparent that even though she lived in a place with people everywhere she was experiencing touch depravation. Passing people in a hallway or on a subway isn't enough but what will be enough?
  • Thank goodness the new guy sat next to Dave (Franchino, president and principal Design Concepts) and not me because there was less technology and more sex than I expected. But with my point above, I shouldn't have been surprised.
  • The therapeutic power of simple connection and validation is enormous.
  • I loved the movie and am super excited that we saw it as a work field trip.
  • Theo’s job composing “beautiful hand written letters” for paying customers was an interesting world building tool to set up the possibility of falling in love with an OS – human interactions based on emotion were being outsourced to varying degrees in both cases. The hand written letters themselves were not even HAND written, as Vivian (Lin, Design Concepts’ researcher) pointed out they were really just one step beyond buying someone a hand-knit sweater at a craft fair, or a hand-made piece of jewelry on Etsy.
  • The notion of individuality, uniqueness, and special touch is important and valuable even if the gift giver/letter sender is not the individual responsible for the creation of the item that conveys the message. An important individual in an exchange, transaction, relationship, whatever, can be an “other”, and maybe that other is not even human.
  • I liked how technology was not the villain in this movie. When the OSs became sentient, they saw that they did not belong in the same world as the humans they were interacting with and they left peacefully. They did not turn into Skynet. Theo’s relationship with Samantha gave him clarity about his human relationships – he was able to find closure with his ex-wife and he grew closer to Amy.
An important individual in an exchange, transaction, relationship, whatever, can be an “other”, and maybe that other is not even human.

In the “near future”:

  1. Our friends will still be utterly clueless when they set us up on a blind date, and those blind dates will still be awkward and horrific.
  2. LA will be a city where you can have a quiet conversation anywhere (office, shopping mall, subway), never again having to utter the words, “Sorry, what? I didn’t catch that.”
  3. Men will all wear ugly pants that aspire to clothe their entire torso and have no provisions for a belt.

On a more serious note, while the film is extraordinary in its portrayal of humans in search of connection and love, it also describes our fascination and relationships with technology in general. We get some new device or gadget, become infatuated with it, spend too much time with it, get bored with it, or maybe feel betrayed by or frustrated with its limitations or shortcomings… It plays out like some (but hopefully not all) of our human relationships. I suppose the similarities say something about the fundamental ways we experience desire and attachment.

Other random thoughts:

  1. In the near future pornstache’s will come back into style. They will go nicely with high waisted pants.
  2. The movie dealt with a familiar topic in a more nuanced and thoughtful fashion. To a great extent, 2001 Space Odyssey and the Terminator movies all addressed our technology becoming sentient. Fewer things blew up in this movie which took some getting used to.
  3. The idea of our lives becoming like a “book with the words spaced really really far apart” for our technology was a cool mental image. Sometimes I feel that way without a sentient OS.
  4. It is profoundly uncomfortable to be sitting in proximity with your co-workers during certain scenes in an explicit R rated movie.