E.M. Forster built a body of great literature on the idea: “Only connect!” but even the great novelist could never have imagined the internet’s power. Berkeley filmmaker (and founder of The Webby Awards) Tiffany Shlain explores this next generation of interconnectedness, and dives into her personal experience, in her compelling, informative and entertaining feature documentary, Connected: A Declaration of Interdependence.
Watching the film, it surprised me how interconnected Tiffany and I are: we both attended UC Berkeley, we’re both Jewish with roots in Odessa, and mothers of two. We both suffered miscarriages and found the loss difficult to mourn openly in this society. And our lives were irrevocably changed when our fathers died in their prime of brain tumors, an event that I have written about and that is central to Shlain’s highly personal film.
And we both found ourselves together at the Sundance Film Festival, connected as filmmaker and critic, sitting in front of the fireplace at the Yarrow hotel after a packed screening of Shlain’s award-winning first feature.
Thelma Adams: What does it mean to be connected in the 21st century?
Tiffany Shlain: It means many things. It means we’re connected to a rich complex history as a species. On a very primal level we’re connected in a close way with our family and in a new way with all this technology, with all these tools. Each of those things requires some thought. You start with yourself and work your way outwards.
TA: What developments do you anticipate in the future?
TS: We’re in the zeitgeist moment where this connectivity is about to catapult us into a new place where we’re going to tackle some of the problems of the day. I worry about this connectivity of keeping us present. The challenge is to personally be connected while using these tools to make the world better. If you look at what happened in Haiti, people were able to coordinate on the internet to help people on the ground. We’ll all be able to react and help.
TA: This is a movie about your relationship with your father….what is your connection to your mother?
TS: Very close. My mother was an incredible role model. She went back and got her PhD. I feel like she’s planted there [in the film]. As I say in the film, my mother and father both co-wrote my brain.
TA: How has that shaped who you are as a mother?
TS: I love being a mother. My mother loved being a mother. My parents both reversed a trend and they were really wonderful parents to me. I feel like I have incredible freedom to be a mother like I want to. The internet helps me. Given my miscarriages, I really valued being a mother. Every moment became more sacred. As a mother it made me more present.
TA: How would you describe your generation of women?
TS: I feel that I had a choice. A lot of my peers waited too long to have children and have had infertility issues. The internet changed things. It gives me an incredible freedom. But I struggle with turning off the computer and being with the kids. We try to do technology free trips. The first step is trying.
TA: In Howard’s End, E. M. Forster wrote, “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” How is this literary vision of connection different from that which your film describes, or is it?
TS: I was at an event yesterday with Gloria Steinem. She said we’re such social creatures that when we punish somebody in our society we isolate them. We sit in a movie theater so we can have a communal moment.
TA: Can you capture this film in 140 characters?
TS: I hope this will spark a conversation about what it means to be connected in the 21st century.