Connected: Tiffany Shlain’s Autobiographical Documentary About the Internet
Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain (founder of the Webby Awards) started out to make a documentary about the interconnectedness of our world, beginning with the big bang, up through human history, to the ways computers are changing how we think and connect. Then her family faces several health crises, and Connected moves into the autobiographical. The film flips betweens Shlain’s ultrapersonal musings and discussion of how science and technology are changing us and the way we interact with the world.
The film includes very little original footage, instead showing a stream of animation, clip art, old films, nature videos, and news footage while she talks about her ideas, science, family, philosophical musings, and memories.
Her father, Leonard Shlain, was a surgeon and author who wrote books about the brain and how art and science are intertwined. His theories play a large part in the film, including the premise of his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image that the invention of the alphabet and literacy rewired the human brain to emphasize left-brain (masculine) thinking, dividing everything into isolated parts, which helped human beings to understand the world better. This approach led to great progress in some areas, but also to the subjugation of women and the overvaluing of growth and consumption until we ended up where we are today. She notes that “everything is so intertwined,” yet we still try to look at things separately and solve problems in isolation.
Shlain theorizes that computers and technology are extensions of the human brain, extending our capabilities infinitely—which offers amazing opportunities for learning, sharing, and more right-brain thinking. She muses: “How to use the power of this connectedness to turn things around?” She believes that “the internet is changing how we think and connect, which will allow us to see the cause and effect of our actions, which will make people be more thoughtful about their behavior.” Shlain takes the optimist view in believing we can use the internet and the connectedness it brings to “turn things around” and save the planet, but she overlooks how a large part of the internet is used for dopamine-enhancing activities and not for the greater enlightenment of humankind (see LOLCats, cyberbullying, and porn).
Disappointingly, she spends only about half the film examining these fascinating ideas, devoting the rest to her own personal history, family relationships, memories, and struggles with her dad’s brain cancer and her own fertility issues—and the really interesting stuff about brains and communication and technology gets wrapped up in her own memoirs.