Image Credits: Warner Bros. Pictures

Put It Down

By Jeffrey W. Peterson - Sept. 18, 2015, 9:00 AM

As Her begins on the screen, I’m trying to put my iPhone 6 down, what some would call my “Siri box,” so I can focus on what I expect to be a solid film. I adore leading man Joaquin Phoenix because of his Johnny Cash portrayal, but can’t quite remember his roles before then. IMDB has always been a consistent home screen app for me; I check it out but get distracted by other bios, those for Scarlett Johansson and Spike Jonze. Don John and Adaptation respectively. I’ll have to watch those again on Netflix sometime. Maybe I’ll actually buy them, though I’ve been binging on Netflix lately…

Everything, it seems, is a distraction. This is how tech infiltrates our lives and becomes entrenched yet understated. Computers, like the operating systems in Her, already invoke a never-ending, addictive relationship. I hate it but can’t turn away.

These days, I use an Xbox 360 controller to pause and play movies. If this were my house and my system, I could use voice commands, say “Xbox 360. Play.” and the movie would pick up where I left off. I’ve paused Her now because people are calling me. I have to answer, right? I received a few short texts like, “What’s up?” and “What are you doing later?” These ignored texts led to calls. The thing is, everyone expects me to stay in constant contact. Every time I catch myself engaging with tech, I realize more and more that the world of Her is not really one of the future—a world in which we’d rather talk to screens instead of people—in actuality, it’s already here.

I struggle to merely continue the movie and begin to subtract any form of technology that might interfere with it. If I’m not fiddling with the controller, I’m swiping a text, yet leaving it unanswered. I’m also replaying in my mind the articles I previously encountered about the movie through Facebook, especially the one ranting about the lack of a soundtrack for purchase. It’s almost as if technology and the interactions it breeds are replacing any genuine experience.

When I put my phone down for an extended period, I begin to notice the cinematography of Her and how it reminisces a Skype or FaceTime conversation. Have I spent too much time with video chat? Likely. Spike Jonze places the camera uncomfortably close or just far enough to keep the torso and above in view. I actually despise FaceTime for this very reason, the odd sense of claustrophobia that develops when I stare at a friend in a box while my face is boxed in an upper left corner. But the future is here. Society likes video chat because it’s still new, unique, and intimate. You can finally see the friend, family member, lover, making you one step closer to being with them. I always thought the purpose of the phone was the inability to really be there. Her capitalizes on this sentiment: it shows us what happens when the “inability to really be there” takes control, when the comfort and convenience of love from behind a screen begins to replace the real thing.

Her doesn’t refrain from exampling how internal and personal our society is becoming, almost boxing ourselves in like a screen shot. I’m finishing up the film among friends—you would never have guessed I’ve been among friends this whole time—but because I’ve picked my phone up again, I may as well have my headphones in while listening to Ratatat. Younger generations are known to do this now, and no one really calls anyone out on it. At one point in time, you had to read a book or newspaper in order to go unnoticed, but now we’ve stepped it up a notch. If I merely hold my phone up to my ear (I think of the scene in Her when everyone is walking around, each talking to their own personal OS), people assume I’m checking my savings account balance or explaining a tweet I accidentally favorited or asking for the correct pin drop for a map. Technology has always allowed for escape, but now it’s easy for us to seemingly never return. How could we have let this happen to us?

I dare you to watch Her and put your phone, computer, and tablet in another room. Go one step further and buy the DVD or rent it. Try to remember the way to Best Buy and don’t call ahead to see if the film is in stock. Allow yourself to get lost, make a wrong turn, or have to try another location. When you finish the film, what will you say about it to the first person you actually see? Will they have written the film off because of one bad review on Rotten Tomatoes?

Jeffrey W. Peterson currently teaches English composition at the University of West Georgia while also mentoring their English Education interns. He received a BA from West Georgia and a MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College. He is also the poetry editor for Madcap, a semiannual online journal of literature and art, and executive director for ALLIANCE Drum & Bugle Corps, an all-age drum corps based out of Atlanta, GA.