Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Decline and Fall of the Backseat Driver

Susan Bennett, the voice of Siri
Spike Jonze’s latest movie Her is about the love affair between a man and a machine, or specifically the voice within a machine. It’s what they used to call high concept in Hollywood, a nifty creative idea that encapsulates a whole world. But the fictional arena the movie describes and out of which the conceit is generated is quickly becoming a reality for the possessor of iPhones, iPads and the simple GPS systems found in most cars. In fact, Susan Bennett, the actress who is the voice of the iPhone’s Siri command system, became a celebrity recently when she outed herself and answered questions about her alter ego for television reporters. Let’s say it’s summer and you pack the family up with tents and sleeping bags for a camping trip to one of the national parks. These kinds of events once fueled a whole genre of satiric comedies about argumentative families. National Lampoon’s Vacation was one of the most famous. The advent of the electronic voice has virtually eliminated a whole genre of comedy. Now there are no longer any bumbling Chevy Chase type fathers losing their way and getting screamed at by their wives and kids. Instead of facing a chorus of complaints when a wrong turn is made, the driver simply hears a value free correction when he’s off course, “please turn right in three tenths of a mile.” This might not result in the kind of passionate phone sex that Spike Jonze envisions. However, if we are apt to criticize technology for reducing the human element in interactions, here's an example of the positive effects of technologic innovation on self-esteem. A new generation of electronically generated voices has made the backseat driver a thing of the past.

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