Technology Retreats

Spike Jonze’s 2013 sci-fi/drama ‘Her’ is quite memorable. It won the director an Oscar for best original screenplay, and received four other nominations including for best picture. The plot involves the central character, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falling in love with his computer’s new, artificially intelligent operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. There are numerous twists and turns that I won’t go into as I don’t want to spoil the experience if you haven’t yet seen it. I highly recommend that you do.

One of the things I found most interesting about the film is its vision of how technology has evolved. It’s the near future in California, and some of the technologies on view already exist today in a more primitive form. Theodore, our hero, has a personal computer, sure, but it has no keyboard: everything is voice-activated. Lights go on and off automatically as he moves around his home. He plays video games that are console-free and fill the room with larger-than-life holograms.

In 2018 we possess cordless ear buds, but in ‘Her’ everyone wears just one that connects them instantly to the digital world.  There’s no fumbling around for signals orWi-Fi connections. Technology, essentially, has just gotten out of the way.

With no item of hardware is this more apparent than the mobile phone. Theodore’s looks more like a photo frame and is quite chunky compared with today’s ever-slimming smartphones. He rarely needs to hold it and when he does there’s no dazzling array of apps to bewilder him. The phone just does its (stripped down) job quietly and unobtrusively. It’s as if there’s been a backlash. Just as nowadays many of us seek out the pleasure of listening to a good old-fashioned vinyl LP maybe in a few decades our descendants will revert to using their cellphone simply as a telephone. Ok, and to text possibly.

Wait a minute though: did I say decades?

In this respect at least the future according to ‘Her’ is already here!

Light Phone 2

It’s been here for a while in fact. In January 2017, the Light Phone was launched which its inventors said was: “designed to be used as little as possible”. The size of a credit card, all it does is make and receive calls. Nothing else. It was intended as a second phone when you want a break from your regular one. However Light Phone 2, due out next year, will encourage users to ditch their smartphone altogether. It does have a few more features though, like the ability to text and an alarm clock.

There’s clearly a market for this kind of device. If you want a Light Phone, never mind a Light Phone 2, you have to join a waiting list. And there are a growing number of low-tech competitors entering the market.

Could we be experiencing smartphone fatigue? Sales in Europe during the first quarter of this year were down by almost 7% compared with 2017 with customers complaining that manufacturers appear to be innovating for the sake of innovation, introducing unnecessary features while increasing the prices of their handsets. One analyst has predicted that most mobile apps will disappear in the next three to seven years.

In a way it would be nice if ‘Her’s’ version of the future materialises. There are far fewer cars, for instance. But I for one am looking forward to unwrapping my feature-bloated, shiny new iPhone come Christmas Day!