Craig R. Boyer: Futuristic ‘Her’ reflects our fascination with machines

February 4, 2014 

We love our mobile devices. Whether it’s to chat, text or play games, they allow us to do more things in more places with every upgrade.

The movie “Her” shows a relationship with an electronic device taken to the extreme. Theodore purchases a device with an artificially intelligent operating system named Samantha. Theodore soon bonds with Samantha, making a more satisfying connection than he has with any woman he’s met. Seems odd, perhaps, but the plot is not altogether new.

Back to the present, people grow attached to their mobile devices, especially smartphones and tablets. About a third of Americans prefer to text rather than talk. It’s especially true of teenagers. Adults like texting so much that they sometimes talk to their kids through texts rather than face to face.

Texting has benefits. Text messages can remind people of errands, appointments, birthdays or anniversaries. It can also get a message to someone who can’t come to the phone.

Some experts say that about 7 percent of communication is based in words. The rest is body language and tone of voice. Sometimes you can understand a message better if you see the person saying it. It won’t do any good if texting replaces speaking.

Some Americans text too much and too often, such as when they drive. The distraction of texting and reading texts leads to numerous accidents. In 2010, 3,092 people died and 416,000 were injured in distracted-driving accidents. These accidents caused California and 41 other states and territories to ban texting while driving.

Another thing people love about their mobile devices is online games. Give someone “Candy Crush” or “Angry Birds” and he might shut out the world for hours. That may come at the expense of responsibilities such as homework, washing the dishes or paying the bills.

Mobile devices are used a lot for social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus. At least 40 million Americans use their social media accounts on their mobile devices daily. It’s a good way for them to tell the world about their day while it’s happening.

Unfortunately, people who use social media tell the world too much. They might use it to criticize employers, co-workers or even friends. They forget to consider that someone other than their friends or followers may read these posts. Businesses often search social media to get information about prospective employees. A negative post might put that new job in jeopardy.

Let’s not forget online relationships. Social media sites are popular places for people to meet other people. A third of digital relationships leave the virtual realm for the real. That is, if they don’t fall victim to one’s idealized perceptions of that online potential partner. They might also threaten one’s existing real relationships – or chances of having one.

Online chats and texts convey only part of a message. What happens to the rest of that communication if digital becomes our only language?

I’ll bet you’ve seen groups of people tapping on their phones and tablets and ignoring each other. Electronic communication is a fine alternative method for communication. But it shouldn’t be the primary method. As you teach your kids how to text, you should teach them how to talk to each other in person.

Don’t end up like Theodore with your best friend being your phone. You’ll be all alone at night curling next to your laptop. It isn’t hard to divide your time between people and machines. That’s the way to be truly sociable.

Boyer is a Modesto resident. Send questions or comments to columns@modbee.com.

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