Great opinion piece by Charles Yu, of his musings on our love of techology.
“Her” romanticizes technology, but it is not really about technology. It is about what we see, or want to see, in our technology. How we want technology to comfort or disturb our conceptions of ourselves.
And that is important — but it is not the real reason I fell in love with it. I fell ardently in love because of how it shaped my conception of the universe.
That’s what the Commodore 64 did. Even with its blocky, ASCII interface. Without any graphical representations, it was purer. You looked at text on a screen. You were never under any illusion that this machine was trying to be your friend. It did not want to talk to you — and if you wanted to talk to it, you had to learn its language.
Whole fields have developed around the idea of making our interactions with machines more pleasurable and intuitive. Our gadgets are engineered to fit just right, into our hands, our lives. Virtual environments, apps and sites are designed by experts with care, forethought and the aim of making everything so smooth and easy that we can forget that this is a machine.
I know I’m spoiled from having lived through the last quarter-century, from having come of age during a particularly steep part of the Curve of Technological Progress. And I don’t doubt it’s only getting steeper. As everything gets faster and richer and denser with information, as a whole new dimension to our physical world evolves online, some possibilities open up, and others close down. The potential congeals into the actual, the possible calcifies into the practical. What is imaginable gets pared down into what was actually imagined. And it’s all pretty amazing.
But things are by necessity amazing in a very specific way, and with a very specific visual grammar and conceptual environment — and that environment is one that is closed, controlled, packaged for us. We’re holding magic boxes, boxes that want to serve us and coddle us, instead of challenge us. And how can you love something that doesn’t challenge you?
Charles Yu is the author of the novel “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” and the forthcoming novel “The Book of Wishing.”