Alone together

Updated: 2014-01-25 10:31

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

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Alone together

Since most eye-catching news items are by nature bad news, it is only natural that one is overwhelmed by a sense of doom and gloom, which, if you take a step back, would shape one's outlook of the world in apocalyptic terms.

I've noticed young people talking on their mobile phones when they definitely should not, such as when a job interviewer is asking them questions. It's extremely unlikely that the phone conversation concerns a family emergency that calls more immediate attention than a prospective job does. But the subconscious sense of being needed by someone vague - someone on the other end of the line who could be much more important than the prospective employer - serves as a defense mechanism for possible failure at the job market.

With online communication, the display of split personality is so much easier and more common. There are those who exude affability and accessibility while using QQ or WeChat, but are intimidated by face-to-face encounters. The offline personality of awkwardness may not be a corollary of online eloquence, suaveness and humor, but it's certainly a sharp contrast. Of all those who find their online avatars a relief, there could be a few whose disposition is exacerbated by this contrast and end up more afraid of the real world.

Sometimes I feel that those who use the Internet to get one-night stands could be the normal ones.

Others may fall for virtual objects of affection a la Joaquin Phoenix's role in Spike Jonze's Her, a movie set in future Los Angeles but partly shot in Shanghai. A man going through a divorce buys a new operating system with not only a voice but a personality. She is soothing, efficient and of course omniscient. Only when he discovers it's not a monogamous relationship (she deals with thousands of such clients at the same time) does he get into a crisis.

Alone together

When the crowd bays for blood 

Alone together

Mother tongue gives taste of home 

Alone together

Honor the past, live in the present 

At that point in the storyline, I thought there must be a way to customize the voice so she uses a different voice for each client. (Scarlett Johansson's voice is nothing like Siri's in the first place.) And why does she have to tell him the truth? Aren't machines of artificial intelligence equipped with the capacity for human conniving?

It may be far-fetched to imagine people having romantic affairs with computer programs (albeit with human voice and soon perhaps with human imagery and even human movements), but how do you know the true identity of the stranger you are flirting with online?

Most people have an intuitive grasp of the ever-renewing communication devices. Still, some seem to have a need for etiquette lessons on when to shut them down. This reminds me of the concertgoer or theater patron who goes through an entire show not looking up at the stage but down at the jarringly luminous screen in his or her hand.

Last year the number of micro blog users in China is said to have fallen by almost 10 percent, which could be a good sign. But perhaps they moved to the new platform of WeChat. Perhaps the smiley face will evolve into virtual handshakes and simulated hugs, reaching a stage where the physical world and an intelligent computer merge seamlessly into one.

Before we are able to send bots to visit our parents in our stead for the Lunar New Year, however, I suggest we put down our fancy gizmos and spend some quality time with family members.

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