Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Disconnect: Should We Burn All The Computers and Smart Phones?

By Tom Kando

The new movie “Disconnect” is impressive. It craftily weaves together three stories. Each story is tragic, realistic and an illustration of life’s miseries in the Internet Age.

One of the three tragedies involves identity theft. A decent but troubled couple falls victim to the nightmare of identity theft, and its devastating consequences. The crisis is triggered by the wife’s unwise habit of chatting online with strangers. The habit is altogether forgivable, especially for this sad and lonely wife, but it is unwise nevertheless.

A second sad tale is about television reporter Nina, who gets mixed up in the sordid teen porn business. Andrea Riseborough plays the part beautifully, as she vacillates between her Good Samaritan motives and her self-preservation instinct.

The third subplot is about two unexceptional high school kids who cyber-bully one of their classmates. The victim is nerdlike but very simpatico. The bullying has devastating consequences.

So the film is basically about malfunctioning relationships, and its point is simple: the relationships are all electronic - certainly at the outset. The movie is about the medium.

Disconnect” confirms all the dislikes and prejudices of an old Luddite such as myself. It focuses on the horrors of the Internet Age, as opposed to its benefits.

We now approach the world and each other by clicking on our keyboard, our iPad, our laptop, our smart phone. We text 140 characters and then we hang up, waiting for the reaction.

Every era has its own kind of stupidity, and ours is no exception. I am old enough to remember several different kinds of stupidities. The fifties were way too optimistic and naïve. In the sixties we thought we could change the world through the pure pleasure principle. Now, the stupidity is that of disconnect, as this movie brilliantly demonstrates.

Let me tell you what I dislike about the Internet Age: I dislike the decline of reading and writing. I dislike even the switch away from computers to iPhones and from e-mail to texting. They represent a further impoverishment. Until recently we still exchanged fairly detailed e-mails on occasion. Now, the 140 character norm increasingly applies to all texting, not just to Twitter.

I dislike the disappearance of the telephone. A few of my friends still call me once in a while, for a leisurely hour-long conversation about this and that and the other. Imagine that! Whether I am on a bus, at Starbucks, in my dentist’s waiting room, at my club’s pool side or at an airport, I am usually the only person reading a book, a magazine or a newspaper. Hardly anyone else reads anything - not even a Kindle or some other tablet. iPhones and androids, yes. Almost all the people around me, (certainly all the young people) are texting or toying with their little machines.

At the advent of television in the 50s, we had great expectations about the new, potentially life-altering medium. It is now clear that on balance, life without television is better than life with it. I admire the 1% of the population which lives without TV. They are right, and we are wrong.

In the long run, it may turn out the same way with computers, smart phones and tablets: The very few people on earth who will do without them will be better off than the rest of us.

I’m talking about the total balance sheet, the total calculus. Don’t bother me with details and trade-offs, the marvelous information explosion, Google, Wikipedia, instant communication, Skype, etc.

I suppose what I am proposing is the Amish way. Impossible. But maybe the Amish are right.

In the movie “Disconnect,” everyone is a victim, on all sides of all relationships - children, parents, husbands, wives, criminals, victims, boys, girls. The problem is systemic. The gadgets have taken over. We are lost.

Here is what Richard Roper - a far better movie critic than the recently deceased Roger Ebert - wrote about it: “You should see this movie. Please.” Sadly, he is whistling in the wind. My wife and I saw the film on a prime time week-end evening. There were 3 people in the audience: us and one other fellow. leave comment here