Filmmaker and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain opens her new documentary Connected with a personal confession: She once faked having to go to the bathroom during dinner so that she could check her email on her phone. For many web-addicted people, that might not be too shocking a reveal, but for her it was a wake-up call — one that comes close to capturing Connected in a nutshell.
Connected, which is currently in limited theatrical release and will be available on DVD and digital formats in 2012, is about the evolution of human communication and how it has changed our lives, for better and for worse. It is ALSO about Shlain simultaneously coping with her scholar father’s brain cancer and pregnancy with a second child.
It is about a lot of things, which is communicated by the film’s subtitle: “An Autoblogography.” “I wanted [Autoblogography] to convey a bunch of things — that the film is autobiographical, with blogography a nod to all the technology in the film — also, the word is just so ridiculous, and shows how I want one thing to do a whole bunch of things for me. It makes me laugh,” Shlain said in a phone interview.
The decision to make the film more bloggy, Shlain said, came about after she’d been working on it for some time, but was struggling to get inspired. “I was working on a film about connectedness and wasn’t feeling connected to it,” she said. Giving the film a personal component, she felt, was the best solution.
Like many personal narratives, people react by wanting to tell their own stories, an impulse that Shlain and the Connected team have been channeling by encouraging people to visit their (extremely active) Facebook page, which has been liked by over eight thousand people so far. “People post about how it’s changing their lives, how wired we are. Everyone is hungry to talk about this subject.”
In the film, Shlain refers casually to how she and her family have instituted a weekly period of unplugging, a sort of digital shabbas that begins on Friday night — which has become, for her, how she finds balance. When we spoke, she hadn’t been able to do her weekly unplugging for three weeks due to her touring schedule with the film, and said that she felt “off-kilter” as a result.
The idea of unplugging is one communicated by a short film which played at the Guggenheim as part of the YouTube Play exhibit last year; Yelp, a digital age riff on Allen Ginsberg’s classic poem Howl, was made at the same time as Connected. In fact, the two films share animation, footage and a narrator. (E.T. star Peter Coyote — “he has the perfect rich voice of God,” Shlain said.)
There are huge ideas in Connected, and small personal touches; it simultaneously makes the case that our over-connected society can be damaging on both a personal and global level — but also looks to those same connection tools as our salvation, because acknowledging our “interdependence” creates conversations that can lead to change.
It’s a concept that can be seen in action right now with the Occupy Wall Street movement — literally, you can see it for yourself, thanks to this age of wonders we live in. You can see right now, how, in Shlain’s words, “We can all be empowered to make change in this world.”