Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain has a new documentary, "Connected," about our digital lifestyle
Shlain: There's a good and bad side to technology, and both help shape society
She and her family shut off all technology one day a week
For first time, number of U.S. cell phone subscribers has surpassed population
The news that America now has more cell phone subscribers than people doesn’t surprise documentary filmmaker Tiffany Shlain.
“There’s 5 billion cell phones on the planet, but only 2 billion people online,” said the director, whose new film “Connected” explores our increasing dependence on the electronic devices we carry.
Shlain seems to have a love-hate relationship with technology. In the film’s trailer she recounts a story of being at dinner with a friend and pretending to go the bathroom so she could check her e-mail on her smartphone.
“Everything is happening so fast. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of time to really talk about what it is doing to us,” said Shlain, who is also a founder of the Webby Awards.
“What does it mean to be connected in the 21st century? What’s the good? What’s the bad? What’s the hope?”
Thanks to smartphones, people aren’t just connecting through calls anymore. Increasingly, they’re messaging on their phones through texts, e-mail, Facebook or Twitter – streams of incoming information that are now accessible to us anytime and anywhere we have a signal.
According to a trade industry report by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, the United States has 327 million cell phone subscribers, more than its 315 million people.
Shlain believes her film presents technology as a next step in shaping society.
“These phones extend our desire for emotional connection. So these are all expanding human capacity because it’s us evolving. We continue to want to have more ways to exchange ideas and connect,” she said.
But Shlain also thinks there is a darker side to our always-on, always-connected society.
“People have gotten incredibly rude. When you are with a good friend you should not have your cell phone right here like a ticking bomb. I think there should be no texting in funerals. When you walk in to greet your husband or partner, you should not be talking on a cell phone.”
In the film, Shlain ponders what the lasting impact of this information explosion will be.
“I wonder if people are going to look back on this period and say, ‘I cannot believe people used their cell phones so much in every situation and there were no boundaries,” she said.
In her own life, Shlain has taken action to limit her digital diet. One day a week, she and her family have a technology shutdown.
“All of the screens go off for 24 hours and it’s the most delicious, long, wonderful day. I read, I write in my journal, I hang out with my kids and my husband and the day feels like four days in one. Then we all can’t wait to go back online. It kind of helps you re-appreciate technology in a new way.”
“Connected” is in limited release in the United States. To learn more, check out the film’s website.