I am completely freaked out by the new iPhone 4s commercial, in which people talk to an app named “Siri”, to do things they used to do by asking a human. This is the ad I’m talking about:
I am not anti-technology. However, I am truly concerned about the relational aspects of this technological advance, particularly how it is being sold in this commercial. In the past, if you needed a recommendation for something, you’d ask a friend, talk to a neighbor, connect with a human being on some level. Now, you can get all your answers from a machine. There’s no need for friends. You never have to interact with your neighbors again!
The part of the commercial that upsets me the most is when the child is looking out the window and asks the phone wistfully, “Could it snow today?” The phone gives the child a weather report. The desire for snow in a child is magical thing — hoping that school will be closed, imagining going out sledding or at least watching the flakes come down by the window with a glass of hot chocolate in hand. I don’t live in a snowy climate, but I would want to have that conversation with my kid, to hear his wistful question myself, and to answer it not just with a robotic equation of the odds of precipitation, but with a whole discussion about what we’d do if the world turned into a winter wonderland that day. Instead, he can stay in his room and not come down until he is all dressed in his snowsuit, ready to go out and play in the snow without ever talking to his mother, or, God forbid, having a relationship with the Earth.
There is another commercial for the iPhone 4s in which a person gets locked out, and sends a locksmith to their house using Siri. When I got locked out as a child, I went across the street to my neighbor’s house, and was fed apples by her elderly mother. We watched soaps and she had a little company while I waited for my parents to come home. This meant that my parents had to know their neighbors well enough to trust their children with them. It takes time to establish community, but it is possible, and it is preferable to our society to make these kinds of connections, rather than relying on a machine.
Jacques Ellul wrote way back in 1954 about the need to transcend technology even if we choose to adopt it. He was a prophetic voice about the dangers of a technological society. “The individual, in order to make use of technical instruments, no longer needs to know about his civilization.” Why bother taking a walk around your new neighborhood, meeting the man who runs the corner store or the woman who just opened a small business, when you can ask your phone where the “highest rated” (aka corporate sponsored) convenience store or restaurant is?
I am a strong believer in attachment theory, both as a parent and a therapist. I believe that though it is very possible and perhaps more convenient in the moment to have a person attach to a “thing” and not a human, it totally screws up one’s brain chemistry and ability to be in loving relationships. I am scared by the idea of widespread use of this product because I see it projecting the fallacy that we don’t need other people to live our lives, that we can be totally independent and just rely on our technological devices to get our needs met. Then we wonder why the nagging emptiness within us only grows and grows, when we spend the time we might previously have used to deepen a relationship with a human expanding our knowledge of the newest technological equipment.
This past decade has seen tremendous progress in technology that actually does lead to more community, more communication — social media, blogs (like this one!), Skype — all of this is adding to our ways to connect with one another. But we should never stop critiquing it, never cease looking at what we are giving up as we increase our reliance on such things.
The other day I was coming out of BART and I heard a public safety recording about how they were trying to “protect you and your electronic devices from harm”. I felt instantly sick to my stomach by the way personhood had been linked with electronic devices — as if it is their job to protect possessions, as if my phone/laptop/iPod is a child, a daemon, a part of me! I don’t mean to go all Dystopian on y’all, but I have been thinking about this a lot, as I have been asking my community for help, and finding immense rewards for both the giving and receiving of such personal interactions.
What do you think, fellow humans? Will you be using Siri? Will we all be, in a few short years/months/days? If so, how can we transcend this technology even while it changes life as we know it?