This past weekend I went and saw the movie, “Her,” and as I was watching I kept thinking about our readings for this week. I mostly thought about Iwan Rhys Morus’ “‘The Nervous System of Britain’: Space, Time and the Electric Telegraph in the Victorian Age,” and Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think.” First, what I found interesting about the Morus reading was how the Victorians saw the telegraph and its technology as something that breached time and space. I never thought of technology in this way before, as if it were able to break the laws of time and space, but as the Victorians described it in this way I can see how they came to those conclusions. We are able to communicate with people in the blink of an eye and all over the world. Then, as I was watching Her, Samantha, the operation system, said that being in a relationship with Theodore, Joaquin Phoenix’s character, at first made her wish she had a body, but then as she grew and learned, because she didn’t have a body she was able to be in multiple places at once and travel and learn things at the speed of light. She said she was able to transcend time and space and described it exactly how the Victorians described the telegraph.  The similarities in the way the technology was described and differences in the technology then made me think about the Bush reading and were we as a society now.

Technology has come so far since the telegraph and seems to be moving so rapidly still. In the film the technology and operating systems did not seem too far off from what we have today. Everyone is already glued to their phones and our computers can solve many problems. Bush seems to wonder if our experiences with technology will start to be more direct and fluid. “All our steps in creating or absorbing material of the record proceed through one of the senses – the tactile when we touch keys, the oral when we speak or listen, the visual when we read. Is it not possible that some day the path may be established more directly?” (Bush, 13). If I had the technology in Her I would not be typing this blog on my laptop right now, instead it would be speaking it out loud and it would be written and published for me. I would still be using a sense to communicate with the technology but we would be getting closer to eliminating that step. I think Bush is right and that someday technology and our bodies will be more in sync with each other. For me it is scary to think that I could be so dependent on something such as an operation system, but then again I am already about 95% dependent on the technology of my phone, laptop, and wifi. I again think back on how the Victorians compared the telegraph to the nervous system. I think there has always been a connection between the body and technology, and one day we may see them as one in the same. With things like activity trackers, Google Glass, and Siri we might start to think that we are the ones that transcend time and space, and not the technology itself.

5 Comments

  1. As someone who also saw Her, I really like the parallel you make between the film’s depiction of OS1 and the way Victorians perceived the telegraph. It makes me think of the small, yet significant way their depiction of space and time was shattered. It had the ability to expand communication throughout the world, but it was laborious and obviously limited in content. A telegraph couldn’t attempt to capture and send the beauty of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, let you hear the 9th symphony or show you how a horse moved. Being able to easily share these images, sounds and videos almost instantly around the world is the natural evolution of this idea, but I wonder if any had quite the same impact. Like Samantha reaching a final stage of our understanding of evolution, I sometimes think if sending information would reach a sort of “final stage,” where you literally send experiences or sensations, rather than what you’re able to capture with them.

    There’s no doubt Bush hit the target on a number of his predictions, including the closer connection of technology and the user. Wearable technology has had a front row seat on the hype train for a few years already, although widespread commercial use hasn’t landed yet. It’s easy to see a product that would really change that the way the iPhone changed smartphones or iPad for tablets. Going a step further, I imagine internet-connected devices could be placed in our body, literally fusing us with technology. You could say this is already happening with wireless pacemakers and digestible passwords.

  2. I want to highlight two reactions of yours. First, I, too, was surprised by how much the Victorians romanticized the telegraph. I caution myself from becoming too excited about the potential of technology. Unlike the Victorian critics quoted in the Morus reading, I appreciate the human labor behind technology and the fact that any technology, from the pencil to the iPhone, is just another man-made material. Technology can go wrong. It can fall apart. Nothing is, or ever will be, perfect.
    But technology can also work well and be great. The telegraph allowed those far apart to communicate instantaneously, as email does all the more so today. We have much information at our fingertips because of the Internet. And computers, the size of our hands, can do hundreds of millions more tasks than computers the size of rooms could do just fifty years ago. We are continuing to create technology that allows us to do more with less. We have indeed conquered—or, at least, significantly fought back—many of our mortal limitations.
    But could technology ever truly conquer time and space? How far can we go? Is there a limit to human potential? I think technology can only aid us so much, and we can never really transcend our physical limitations. If we think we can do so, we may be banking a little too much on this life. Take the Victorian critics’ response to the telegraph as a case-study. All that optimism and romance… and look at how very mortal, time and space-bound, we were throughout the rest of the nineteenth and twentieth century.
    You also referenced the link between technology and our bodies, as the Morus reading notes comparisons made between the telegraph system and the nervous system. You say we may even think of ourselves as transcending time and space, we so connect our technology with our bodies. It’s reasonable we should think so. All technology could be thought of as an extension of our bodies. We create a piece of technology so we can do something our bodies cannot, and by using this technology we think of it as our extended body.
    As you guess, we are around 95% dependent on computing technology. I think the more technology we have, the more we realize how weak we are. We need our phones, cars, and computers…because otherwise we could not live in our modern world! This is why those localities without much modern technology and that are more self-sufficient are admirable. By not having so much modern technology, those in such places can only do what their bodies do, and so by day they must overcome human weakness. You could also look to the early American pioneers as an example of this kind of living.
    All this to say…we better be cautious how dependent we become on modern technology. This is the bad side to technological improvement: the better technology becomes, the weaker we grow. (Except for those who create the technology. Their minds become stronger.) I know I couldn’t survive without modern conveniences, a fact I’m constantly horrified by!
    Perhaps this is when we turn to the Plato reading, and dialogue with each other about what’s really real, what is true, what is the good, etc.
    -Trevor Whalen

    • Great ideas in response to Katie’s post, Trevor. I would love to have seen you develop any one of them in more depth. In responding, don’t feel compelled to address every one of the author’s original points. I would much rather read an in-depth response to a portion of the original post. Otherwise the discussion tends to stay a bit close to the surface.

  3. Interesting post, Katie. You make some thoughtful connections between Her and the Morus and Bush readings. The most thought-provoking point is right at the very end and as a reader, I wanted to read more of your ideas on thinking of ourselves as transcending time and space vs. our technology.

    For future posts, keep in mind that some readers of your blog may not be enrolled in the class. So you want to contextualize references to readings so that a reader outside the class can follow your argument. In addition, focus on pushing your analysis further. As I said above, it just got interesting right at the end. Focus on the “so what?” question. Why should anyone care about the connection between Her and our readings? What can we learn about ourselves and our relationship to technology by making such a connection?

    The inclusion of the movie trailer is a nice touch but it feels a bit extraneous. Is there a particular moment from the trailer on which you want your reader to focus? Images and other media should be included as more than decoration. Try to pick media that support or enhance your argument.

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