Turkle’s Reclaiming conversation reminded me of the movie “Her.” The movie takes place in the future, where artificial intelligence technology is fully developed. In the future, an operating system (OS), which has its own consciousness and is able to develop into a full entity, is sold as a commodity. The movie is about a lonely divorced man named Theodore who buys the OS, and falls in love with it. Theodore thinks Samantha, the OS, is the only one that truly understands him, even better than his ex-wife. Their relationship, however, falls apart after Theodore realizes that Samantha is talking with 8,316 more people, while having a conversation with him.
The future will look similar to what the movie suggests. Google and Amazon came up with Alexa and Echo, the AI assistants, while developing wearable devices. Soon, we will have more than social media apps and smartphones in our hands. The more smart OS in more comfortable device will emerge and we will both be connected and disconnected at the same time. New tech, such as Google glasses, will search and show information about the product a friend is talking about as he or she speaks. While connected to the virtual world, a conversation with a friend may be disconnected for a second. As the new media suggest and recommend entertainment, and a place to socialize, people find virtual world a comfortable place to spend time. In the virtual world, making conversation to a stranger is easy as tapping in and tapping out.
The problem with talking on the web is that it is easy to tap out. Turkle pointed out that many students find email to be a comfortable method when they communicate with professors. She also observed that the number of people breaking up through a simple text messaging is increasing. People turn to electronic devices when they have to confront difficult feelings. It is easier to deliver hard feelings without looking someone in the eye. Like Turkle argued, feeling of empathy seems to diminish on social media (communication on electronic media). If you are not satisfied with the person you are talking to, or the topic of conversation, you can easily end the conversation by clicking close button, logging out of the app, or simply putting the phone down. Unlike face-to-face communication, people don’t have to put effort into the conversation they don’t like. This not only puts them into a bubble of like-minded people, but also affects people’s patience.
In the previous discussion, we talked about how technology enabled people to multitask. Now people use several devices at the same time, and the contents are cropped into a bite size so that it is easier for people to consume the content. The shorter duration of the content is what aggravates problem with empathy. When people read tragic stories on a book or a paper, they had enough time to consume the information, and to develop a feel or thought for the story. However, on new type of media, shortened yet diverse news and entertainment contents are constantly fed and blocks people from developing ideas. I also have an experience of reading a sad story on Facebook, which brought me to tears. That feeling, however, didn’t last a minute because the following content had funny stories with cute puppies. Likewise, fast developing technology deprives us of the ability to develop our thoughts and feelings. If people’s way to communicate continues to be selective and superficial, the future illustrated in the film Her is soon to come. Because people will only want to communicate with someone/thing that only agrees with him or her, artificial intelligent OS will be a perfect solution to keep people accompany.
However, is conversation on the virtual world genuine communication, or even genuine feelings? Samantha asks Theodore how someone can share a life with other person. Theodore answers reading each other’s work and having influence on each other’s life was how he shared a life with his ex-wife. Samantha asks again how he influenced her. Theodore answers they came from a different background but “a sense of just trying stuff and allowing each other to fail and to be excited about things… It was exciting to see her grow and both of us grow and change together.” The value of genuine conversation is priceless. With so many scholars showing concerns for the new technology and the media, I wonder if one day new media will be considered detrimental service to mental health. Once, cigarette was considered cool but many health-efficient people avoid smoking, and smoking itself is considered bad. Some people already give out testimonials on how great it feels to be free from new media. We never know, but one day, the culture that deeply immerses people into the waves of content may also be considered something wrong. Only then, we will reclaim our conversation.