Users is a fascinating meditation on life and parenting in the digital age

“Babies births couldn’t be scheduled, they came unexpectedly,” she says. “Mothers had to carry the child within them for almost a year, and then painfully push them out. When that didn’t work, doctors would surgically remove them. You had to feed the baby from your own body, and had to soothe the child to sleep.”

Now, your smart crib can automatically detect when your child is crying and soothe them on its own. Watching the Snoo in action, I was reminded of when I tested it out with my daughter. At the time, I was struck by how much faith I was putting in a machine. It felt as if I was handing my newborn over to our new god — technology. My daughter never found the Snoo soothing, so we gave up on it after a few weeks. But for Almada, and plenty of other parents, it’s a miracle: “It was tireless, and it did it right every time. It was the perfect mother. And she was everywhere.”

More a tone poem than a traditional narrative documentary, Users doesn’t have many answers. Instead, Almada is more interested in heightening our awareness of modern life. She presents images of a raging ocean, a reminder of where we all came from. Not long afterwards, we see a water treatment plant, which cleans sewage so we can have potable water. Later, we see a mother breastfeeding her child — one of the most natural and pure acts humans are capable of, but one that’s still made possible by the benefits of modern medicine and sanitation.

As a parent myself, it’s heartening to see more art reflecting my concerns about how my child is being influenced by tech. “She’s in the satellites orbiting around us in space. In the web of fiber optic cables wrapping around the earth. Everywhere, but out of sight,” Almada says early on in the film, describing her anxiety over the technological “mother” overseeing her children’s lives. “She and I are in a battle over my children’s affection. Will they love her more, will they love her perfection more than my imperfection?”

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