It’s that time of year again – the aisles at local drugstores and check-out kiosks at grocery stores are overflowing with classic Hallmark cards while heart-shaped decorations cling to the windows at schools and banks. Couples sit hand-in-hand on their favorite park bench, drinking in the scenery before heading down the street to warm up in the corner bistro. You can’t ignore it – love is in the air. But, it’s also in your pocket (or on your desktop, in your briefcase…).
When you think about it, the relationship you have with technology and the devices you use are most likely one of the – if not the – most committed relationship you have experienced. These personal assistant technologies are with you as you run from meeting to meeting, by your bedside when you go to sleep at night, and are the first thing you reach for when you wake up in the morning. They satisfy your needs and expectations of connecting to people and information in real-time; overcoming the complexities that distance can create. Your interactions with them make you laugh, sometimes cry.
But for the most part these exchanges – these feelings – are in large part driven by a connection to other humans, a reaction to their responses – not driven by the device’s behavior on its own. When you get a text message or email the device is really just a vehicle through which to transfer that message – nothing more. Or is it?
In a recent survey, 57% of men said they already felt a personal connection with their phone and 71% of women said they would name their mobile personal assistant, alluding to the potential role their device is fulfilling. Personal assistants like Dragon Mobile Assistant enable you to choose your assistant’s voice based on your personal preferences and we already rely on our devices on a daily basis, but our relationships are now transcending simple utilitarian capacities and shifting over to deeper, emotional attachment.
Spike Jonze’s recent film Her is an even more vivid example of this, exploring just how intimate of a relationship one can have with their devices in a somewhat dystopian and futuristic world – in this case, a man named Theodore with his computer operating system, Samantha. Theodore’s initial curiosity in Samantha quickly turned into a very real and satisfying relationship, filling the void that was left from a recent breakup. Watching the relationship play out, you find yourself lost in the realness of it all. Conversations flow naturally and the visceral emotions they’re feeling are apparent. You’re only struck by how unconventional the relationship is when you remember that Samantha is an OS –a man-made innovation fulfilling a human role.
Mashable explains, “Technology has the potential to improve and deepen relationships. But the real question raised in Her is whether technology can or should ever become a meaningful relationship in and of itself.” Whether it should or shouldn’t be a substitute for human-to-human relationships is another conversation altogether, but the point is that the potential is there. As humans many of our behaviors are pattern-based, making it seemingly much easier for machines to learn from these behaviors and interact with us in more natural ways. And when you delve further into the human psyche, putting aside the technological innovations needed to support as natural a relationship as Theodore and Samantha have, it’s natural for us to seek out relationships and companionship – no matter what form it comes in. We yearn for connections with others and habitually work to attribute humanlike characteristics to non-human entities, like when we name our cars or select a personality for our phones. It’s becoming more commonplace, but still questioned by many.
Some may even ask: “how sad or lonely do you need to be to fall in love with a computer? Neither – you just need to be human. They’ll do the rest and, for the first time, we’re on the cusp of joining hands.”