Exploring the Effects of "Plugging In"

Exploring the Effects of "Plugging In"

Tiffany Shlain’s documentary “Connected” explores peoples’ capacity for connection in the digital age, examining both the pros and cons of staying “plugged in.”

The film, subtitled “An Autoblogography,” combines narratives on Shlain’s journey through social networks, an uncertain pregnancy, and caring for her ailing father.

“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,” Shlain said.

The film is set to debut in New York next week and will be available on DVD and other digital formats in 2012, following limited theatrical release.

Shlain explores both the positive and negative sides of digital connectedness, unlike many existing studies on the topic that tend to take a single point of view.

On one hand, she calls her iPhone her mind and heart extension, explaining, “Every thought I have I get to activate and every person I think about I get to call or email.”

Former branding consultant Martin Lindstrom corroborated Shlain’s observation with a study linking smartphones to love.

“I carried out an MRI experiment to find out whether iPhones were really, truly addictive, no less so than alcohol, cocaine, shopping or video games,” said Lindstrom. “Most striking of all was the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion.”

Similarly, apps that connect people like “HowAboutWe” and “LikeALittle People” are proving popular among plugged-in students who crave human connection despite their busy and often isolating schedules.

But Shlain also describes her family’s weekly unplugging ritual, which helps her find balance. Not unplugging leaves her feeling “off-kilter” whenever her touring schedule prevents this tradition.

Shlain’s experience is not unique. Recently, Facebook depression and obsession, for example, are clinically diagnosable problems that mimic drug and alcohol addiction.

Also supporting Shlain’s contention is student Michelle Hackman’s Intel Science Search’s competition study, which found those surveyed often chose to text or tweet rather than speak with another human being.

The documentary takes the good with the bad, likely reflecting many people’s experiences with social networks’ power both to reunite and to separate.

Perhaps the single most important theme running through Shlain’s otherwise piecemeal narrative is expressed in the words of naturalist John Muir, whom she says her father often quoted.

“When you tug at a single thing in the universe, you find it’s attached to everything else,” said Muir.

Shlain’s work demonstrates that what is true in nature, may also be true with technology.

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