Tiffany Shlain, the filmmaker who brought us reproductive rights documentary Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness and explored American Jewish identity via Barbie dolls in The Tribe, is back with Connected: An Autoblogography About Life, Death, and Technology. It’s a film that touches on topics near and very dear to Shlain; as the founder of the Webby Awards, a ceremony recognizing the best of the Internet since 1996 (do you remember the Internet in 1996? Tiffany Shlain does, and while I was a ten year-old trolling chat rooms, she was getting stuff done), she has seen the way that technology has evolved and changed our lives as individuals and as a society.
In Connected, Shlain gets personal in a very public way; her father, a brilliant doctor and celebrated author, is diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor while writing his latest book. Soon after, Shlain learns that she is pregnant with her second child and the pregnancy will be a complicated one. Shlain’s relationship with the technology that has defined her career gets complicated, too- she struggles to hold everything together and focus on her film as well as her family. She also recalls (totally, shamefully relatable) times when checking her email seemed like an addiction, ducking into the bathroom to check her phone when she should have been connecting with a living, breathing friend. Indeed, the Internet makes it easy to become self-involved; the self is, after all, a construct, made to fit a Facebook mold. But Shlain also takes a look at how interdependence- using this technology to learn from and share with others- can be hugely beneficial.
Her outlook is optimistic—perhaps almost hippie-idealistic—and though I am by most accounts a grouchy jerk and rolled my eyes at the title of the film alone, I’ve started to notice connections more than ever since watching the film. I recently overheard a group of young girls from Brooklyn chatting about their Twitter correspondences with their favorite fashion designer in LA; I realized how exciting it is that the Internet puts knowledge at more fingertips than ever before, and gives a voice to those who might not otherwise have the privilege to be heard. Of course, there are plenty of shitty things happening online, but when you look at the way it’s allowed information to be shared, you’ve got to admit that there’s a huge potential for great change. For a very current example, look at the Occupy Wall Street protests and subsequent protests started in other cities—while there has been a dearth of mainstream media dedicated to the cause and arrests, the Internet is there to bring us every moment in real time. It truly is by people and for the people.
Another thing I dug about Connected was its visual style. Shlain tends to only use found/re-appropriated footage in her films, and it is definitely effective here. After all, the web creates a vast public domain where media, even if it’s very old, can find new life. Sites like Tumblr also allow people to curate their own personal art galleries and create communities by sharing media with others.
Connected is already garnering plenty of accolades and is screening across the country this fall. For release dates and more information, get Connected here.
If all this talk about technological revolution is getting you pumped to start some connections of your own, check out The Moxie Institute, Shlain's organization dedicated to using emerging technologies to explore social issues. It's all just a click away.