Beautiful, Personal, Handwritten Letters

Theodore’s job in Her slightly reminds me of Ed Dante’s job as a ghostwriter for students as he describes it in his article The Shadow Scholar. They both take advantage of the anonymity of the internet, the laziness of the client, and the specialized skills of the writer. Both jobs represent a newfound disconnect where there are too many people in the world while there’s much too little time to do something such as write a heartfelt letter or a paper. So in our world of automation with an emphasis on time efficiency, it only makes sense that these types of jobs would appear. Why do anything when everything can be outsourced? After all, most personal letters are basically just forms of “I love you”, so can’t each person’s letter be put into a template with the simple addition of a few details about the client’s relationship? I’m not saying that love itself is generic; just these meaningless Hallmark cards they exchange with one another. They’re essentially a “How’re you doing today?” type formality that lack in depth and meaning, but happen nonetheless because the absence of them would be notedly negative. Theodore’s job, the company he works in, and any company that writes “Beautiful, Personal, Touching” whatevers fill a gap in the demand for these quick formalities.

The Beautiful Handwritten Letters company is expected to be accepted in this world, but not without a bit of discomfort. Since the essence of a personal letter is that it’s, well, personal, and the anonymity of a company is the exact opposite of that, there’s an obvious conflict between the values of the two goals. But this conflict only occurs if it’s found out that a company was used, and another goal of the company is to write a “beautiful” letter that could only seem to have come from a loved one, who managed to break down their relationship with a person into a few key details so that a company could write a personal letter for them, contradicting the very definition of personal. The existence of this company is hilarious due to its irony, but it still does manage to show a general disconnect between actual people in the movie’s world (maybe our own emerging world as well) where there is a gap looking to be filled that’s large enough to fund a good looking office.

The existence of the company pairs well with the overall theme of Her, which questions man’s (or woman’s) relationship to machine, and how complex essentialities such as life and love can be defined. The traditional view that may have existed a few decades ago, that a man ran into a woman at such-and-such and they hit it off, got married, and had 3 kids doesn’t really exist anymore in our world of online dating and internet anonymity. Plenty of people on the internet have connected and become friends even though they may only know their username handles. Sure, it could be a company or artificial intelligence agent could be slinging the most probable and appropriate thing a human may reply with, but if that’s what the person was going to say anyways then who cares? Meaning out of the letter, or email, or IM was still felt by the receiver, which is why the client would bother to send in a request in the first place. It’s not the content that matters, it’s just the meaning that matters.

One thought on “Beautiful, Personal, Handwritten Letters

  1. Alex you have done a great job by comparing the movie “Her” and the article “The Shadow Scholar.” And I like the argument or opinion you make about the modern social media and companies. Especially the last sentence of the last paragraph.

    I would like to know which kind or type of audience you are conveying to. It would have been better if you talk a general background information about the article and the movie. I did see some comparison in the beginning but it started to decrease. If strong comparisons were added the blogging would have been a strong blog.


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