Living through Screens
Living through Screens
As we navigate through life constantly looking from one screen to another, we must ask ourselves what exactly we are doing? Often likened to the dystopian fiction made famous by George Orwell and Anthony Burgess, as advancements in technology increased in speed and scope, it seems inevitable that we would one day be dictated by our access and need for machines which keep us connected, entertained and curious.
A contemporary of Orwell and Burgess, J.G. Ballard displayed increasing suspicions of the possibilities television could offer and how its schedules were changing to reflect new modes of entertainment more aligned with the morbid than the inquisitive. In an article Ballard wrote for Vogue in 1977, he commented on how “each of us within the privacy of our own rooms will be the star in a continually unfolding domestic saga, with parents, husbands, wives and children demoted to an appropriate supporting role”. This falls in line with similar concerns Ballard expressed in an interview where the writer prophesied, “every home will be transformed into its own TV studio. We’ll all be simultaneously actor, director and screenwriter in our own soap opera. People will start screening themselves. They will become their own TV programmes.” When considering the cult of celebrity and the ubiquity of reality TV, Ballard clearly had his finger on something just before it exploded into our homes and eventually into our routines.
A recent episode of the TV show Modern Family (further complicating the matter through its mockumentary style and ultimate commentary on the family) explores these modes of communication that we utilise on a daily basis. Made up entirely of FaceTime calls, iMessages, e-mails and numerous active web browser tabs open on her Macbook Pro, the episode follows Claire Dunphy’s day as she attempts to resolve an argument with her daughter Haley whilst simultaneously contacting her entire extended family. This unusual method of presenting the family emphasises how much our means of interaction have advanced, as well as our inability to go barely a minute without checking our phones, tablets or laptops. There is also a definite fear that if you cannot be contacted quickly, something is wrong or you are somehow non-existent – a worry made quite clear in the episode when Haley cannot be tracked down and is almost automatically deemed missing.
This need to be connected 24/7 can sound daunting, if not symptomatic of a society that is governed by fears of loneliness, vulnerability and boredom. By living through our screens, we are given the chance to create other versions of ourselves via virtual methods alongside alterations of our actual selves by a culmination of facts and figures which can impress others. Having grown up in an age where soap operas depicted the dangers of chatrooms and video games were constantly slandered for their associations with violence, there is certainly an ominous undertone to be seen in social media and the online personas that accompany it.
Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her is a beautiful and emotive film which examines our relationship with technology, especially when we allow it to play such an intimate role in our lives. Following protagonist Theodore Twombley’s increasing affections for a computer operating device named Samantha, whom he speaks to via a little mobile phone-like object which he often keeps in his pocket, the film raises questions about what the future may hold for those seeking companionship and love. Despite only ever speaking to Samantha over his device, Theodore develops a deep sense of trust and comfort in being able to speak to her whenever he needs to or wants to. Whilst the concept may be initially bizarre to comprehend, the possibility of this type of service is not far off becoming a reality. One need only look as far as the comfort many find on dating apps and websites without actually ever meeting the person on the other side of their screen.
In fact, a recent joint research study by Cambridge and Stanford University shows that computers may be better judges of character than our very own friends and relatives. By studying our online activity, machines may become skilled enough to detect our emotions and traits to adequately react and provide support.
Worries about privacy are voiced almost as often as a new iOS update is released, yet it does not seem to deter our dependence on technology nor our need to be logged in at all times. It would seem that this is only the beginning of living through multiple screens and devices. What may once have seemed like a scandalous prediction more aligned to science-fiction is now a reality that cannot be escaped.
Written by Victoria Rodrigues O’Donnell