Connected: An Autoblogography About Love, Death, and Technology
Run time: 82 min. | U.S.A. | color & b/w
Directed by Tiffany Shlain
Narrated by Tiffany Shlain and Peter Coyote
Film Website: http://connectedthefilm.com/
Found on Sundance website:
“With wonderful heart and an impressive sense of scale, Tiffany Shlain’s vibrant and insightful documentary, Connected, explores the visible and invisible connections linking major issues of our time—the environment, consumption, population growth, technology, human rights, the global economy—while searching for her place in the world during a transformative time in her life. Employing a splendidly imaginative combination of animation and archival footage, plus several surprises, Shlain constructs a chronological tour of Western modernization through the work of her late father, Leonard Shlain, a brain surgeon and best-selling author of Art and Physics and The Alphabet Versus the Goddess.
With humor and irony, the Shlain family life merges with philosophy to create both a personal portrait and a proposal for ways we can move forward as a civilization. Connected illuminates the beauty and tragedy of human endeavor while boldly championing the importance of personal connectedness for understanding and coping with today’s global conditions.”
Narrative and Narration
Connected is broken into two narrative strands, with a separate narrator for each. Peter Coyote provides “voice of god” narration for segments dealing with the history of human beings from the Pleistocene to the present. Peter Coyote is never seen, his narration is entirely voice-over.
The other narrative strand is provided by Tiffany Shlain and focuses mainly on her family history, especially her father’s brain cancer diagnosis and his death. Shlain’s narration is delivered as voice-over but also as direct address to the camera, lending it a more personal feel than Mr. Coyote’s narration.
Both narrative strands combine to discuss what Tiffany Shlain sees as the interconnections between current social problems and patriarchal attitudes. Shlain informs us that these patriarchal attitudes were -- in her father Leonard Shlain’s book, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess -- in turn connected to the development of written language which, theoretically, made humans shift from having balanced use between their “feminine” right brain and their “masculine” left brain to having a dominant left brain. Connected concludes by stating that modern technologies (specifically the internet, text-messaging, and social networking) will restore the balance between brain hemispheres and result in a globally connected, virtual central nervous system, and egalitarian social relationships.
Most of the scenes in Connected are displayed with rapid pacing, with visuals strung together in a stream of consciousness, associational style. This gives little time for the viewer to contemplate the on screen action or to consider whether or not the factual claims being made are accurate.
Interestingly, the pacing of the film slows down exponentially during scenes that deal with Tiffany Shlain’s family history and especially her father’s illness and death. Effectually, assertions of fact are made quickly without giving the audience time to process them, while emotionally charged information is given more time to sink in and have an affect on the viewer.
Connected is composed almost entirely of stock/archival video footage, cgi, and animation. Pacing is so rapid during most of the film that the images seem to turn into collages. It is difficult to remember any particular sequence from this film. The most notable exception is the sequences dealing with Tiffany Shlain’s father. During these scenes, pacing slows down and stock footage is replaced by interview footage presumably filmed by Shlain.
Ethics / Criticism
As discussed during my presentation, I view this work as homage to Tiffany Shlain’s father. I think this work is intentionally emotional, a part of Tiffany’s grieving process, and not meant to be read factually. However, this film is a documentary (not a feature-length fiction film) and the filmmakers gave no disclaimer regarding the factuality of their work. So, it seems important that some of the “facts” presented in this film be examined with closer scrutiny than what the rapid pacing of the film allows. Below are a few of the claims in this film that I noticed are in need of further research or that don’t seem to support the rosy view of technology advanced in this film:
· The associations between right brain/ left brain and, writing, and patriarchy + the assertion that a virtual central nervous system will bring about an egalitarian balance are so speculatively grounded that they really should have been supported in-film with actual data and citations. The same holds for most of this films non-personal claims.
· Near the opening of the film, Tiffany Shlain repeats the often used quote: If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live.” The honeybee becomes one of Connected’s motifs, visually repeating again and again. Yet, there is no record of Einstein ever making this claim or that the claim is accurate. See http://www.ent.uga.edu/bees/OnEinsteinBeesandSurvivaloftheHumanRaceHoneyBeeProgramCAESEntomologyUGA.html and http://www.snopes.com/quotes/einstein/bees.asp
· Shlain makes the claim that social networking technology can bring us closer together by releasing oxytocin, what she calls “the cuddle hormone,” in the brain. If this is accurate, it would be good for Shlain to also include studies that found oxytocin to be linked to “in-group favoritism and, to a lesser extent, out-group derogation” (De Dreu, CKW) and that it also increases feelings of envy and schadenfreude (S.G. Shamay-Tsoory et al.)
· The film claims that the internet, text-messaging, and social networking sites, release the neurotransmitter dopamine. And that dopamine plays a role in the brain’s reward system, novelty seeking behavior, and addiction formation. When addiction occurs, the brain has developed a kind of dependency for the dopamine release. The film seems biased to explore only the positive potential of our technologically created central nervous system, and its virtual connections, while not focusing on what the reality of people being addicted to virtual relationships with each other would result in.
· Finally, during the Q and A, Tiffany Shlain was asked whether she is concerned about teenagers playing x-box (video game console) all day long. Tiffany responded that she watched TV all day long as a kid and that she turned out fine. However, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests video games (specifically violent games) decrease empathy in the person playing the game. A 2010 study published by the American Psychological Association found that “evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior.” (Anderson et al.) Conversely, a 2009 study reinforced earlier finding that “Readers of fiction tend to have better abilities of empathy and theory of mind.” (Mar, et al.) This is interesting an interesting commentary on old technology vs. new technology.
Connected is so full of unsupported claims that it is difficult to take it seriously on a factual level. Yet it seems that when a documentarian tackles a certain topic they should be responsible to conduct a review of the latest research regarding that topic. Maybe that is wishful thinking on my part. We’ve discussed the decentering of truth elsewhere on this blog – does the decentering of truth also mean that we should stop making an attempt at understanding the world we exist in? What are the ethical responsibilities, if any, for the documentary filmmaker in the post-modern era? If we can just as well lump all films into the fiction category, what does it mean to call one film a documentary and another a work of speculative fiction?
For me, this lack of a good-faith effort to be factual is one of the crucial problems with the thesis of Connected. Yes, the internet and the rise of modern techonologies may indeed give all humans a shared central nervous system, but it will be a system where anybody can publish anything, regardless of expertise, factuality or ethical implications. This may not be a problem for Shlain, especially if she agrees with her father’s thesis that factuality is a left brain, masculine, patriarchal phenomenon. The idea that the internet creates a shared central nervous system must be very emotionally appealing for Tiffany, as she is about to lose her father to brain cancer. After all, her father was a neurosurgeon working on a book about Leonardo DaVinci’s ability to balance, in concert, the right and left hemispheres of his brain. For Tiffany Shlain, the idea that the internet has the capability to create a similar harmony between brain hemispheres must have great emotional resonance.
Anderson, Craig A.; Shibuya, Akiko; Ihori, Nobuko; Swing, Edward L.; Bushman, Brad J.; Sakamoto, Akira; Rothstein, Hannah R.; Saleem, Muniba. “Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries: A meta-analytic review.” Psychological Bulletin, Vol 136(2), Mar 2010, 151-173. http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-136-2-151.pdf
De Dreu, Carsten K. W., Lindred L. Greer, Gerben A. Van Kleef, Shaul Shalvi, and Michel J. J. Handgraaf. "Oxytocin Promotes Human Ethnocentrism — PNAS." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Web. 10 Jan. 2011. http://www.pnas.org/content/108/4/1262.abstract.
Delaplane, Keith. ""On Einstein, Bees, and Survival of the Human Race" | Honey Bee Program | CAES Entomology | UGA." Home | Entomology, at CAES | UGA. Web. 5 April 2010. http://www.ent.uga.edu/bees/OnEinsteinBeesandSurvivaloftheHumanRaceHoneyBeeProgramCAESEntomologyUGA.html.
Raymond A. Mar, Keith Oatley, Jordan B. Peterson. “Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes.” Communications. Volume 34, Issue 4, Pages 407-428. Web. Dec. 2009. http://www.reference-global.com/doi/abs/10.1515/COMM.2009.025.
Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory, Meytal Fischer, Jonathan Dvash, Hagai Harari, Nufar Perach-Bloom, Yechiel Levkovitz. “Intranasal Administration of Oxytocin Increases Envy and Schadenfreude (Gloating)” Biological Psychiatry. Web. 30 July 2009. http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(09)00762-8/abstract.
"Snopes.com: Einstein on Bees." Snopes.com: Urban Legends Reference Pages. Web. 21 April 2007. http://www.snopes.com/quotes/einstein/bees.asp.
"Sundance Film Festival 2011 : Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology." Sundance Film Festival 2011 : Home. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. http://sundance.bside.com/2011/films/connectedanautoblogographyaboutlovedeathandtechnology_sundance2011.
- A film with a similar visual style is Koyaanisqatsi.
- Connected mentions a "Texas sized mound of floating garbage in the Pacific Ocean," which may connect with the recent film, Wasteland.
- Discussion about global warming could connect to any number of films on that topic, An Inconvenient Truth and The 11th Hour come to mind.
- M. Night Shyamalan's feature, The Happening, has a scene where the main character of the film (played by Mark Wahlberg) tells a classroom of students to honeybee quote misattributed to Einstein.
- There are also feature films that deal with the emergence of social networking and its speculative effects on relationships, The Social Network, and Catfish, are two good examples.