An Autoblography about Love, Death and Technology
From science, to sonnets, to the flight of the honeybee, everything is interconnected, says Tiffany Shlain in her latest documentary Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology. For Shlain, a vivid example of the interconnected nature of life on earth lies in the case of the honeybee, whose numbers have been dwindling and whose extinction would mean the ruin of food-bearing vegetation, devastating life all the way up the food chain. The lesson: even the smallest thing has the power to change the world.
Connected offers us a brief glimpse into our history as a species, illustrating that humanity has been interdependent for as long as we have existed. Scientists believe that we sought to communicate and connect with one another even before we had the ability to use language or record it. What has changed is the level on which we connect. The Internet has made the world into a global community, linking individuals to one another on such a large scale that the effect produced by these connections is also global.
If we envision each connection as a single strand in a vast web that wraps around each one of us, then we are left with two options: we can either feel helpless that the world is changing around us in ways we can’t control, or we can tug at the strands around us to reshape the entire web. When Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, people around the world were able to collaborate to provide relief. We were able to text donations on our cell phones. It has never been easier to make change happen. All that it takes is our courage, a vision of what could be, and the curiosity to see that vision play out in reality.
Like any power, Shlain notes that the potential of a connected world can generate both beneficial and potentially harmful results. Take the example of Marie Curie, whose discovery of uranium had enormously positive and negative effects; uranium provided us with a new treatment for cancer and a new source of energy, but also can be used to make deadly bombs. This single discovery has had far-reaching consequences, transforming our world as we know it today—for better or worse.
Although Connected illustrates the way in which our entire world is connected, Shlain observes that humanity has not always acknowledged or embraced the potential of this fact. Yet the truth of our interconnected reality is always there. When Chairman Mao sought a rational means of increasing China’s crop production by exterminating the seeding-eating sparrows, the end result was the opposite of what Mao had intended. Without sparrows to control the population of locusts that preys on the crops, the crops were decimated. The mistake lies in the fact that the seeds, sparrows, and crops were not the only components in the equation—there were other connections to be accounted for, like the locusts. And it wasn’t just the sparrows that died, but the crops and also thousands of starving Chinese.
It is the unique potency of connection that prompts Shlain to advocate a Declaration of Interdependence. In a short film titled “Declaration of Interdependence” featured on connectedthefilm.com, Shlain asserts that although we should take our problems seriously, we should also never forget to laugh, to learn from our mistakes, and to use our collective knowledge to create a better future. We cannot be isolated by individual grief in times of crises; we must band together if we are to rise above challenges. Thus instead of continuing to insist on our independence, Shlain says it is time to embrace the power of interdependence and harness its potential for positive change.
Shlain also argues that because of the Internet, we are making a move back toward connective/right brain thinking for the first time in millennia. The Internet taps into both our analytical left hemisphere and our creative right hemisphere through its mixed use of text and images. This hypothesis was pioneered by Shlain’s father, Leonard Shlain, the brain surgeon and famous author of The Alphabet and the Goddess, to whom Connected is dedicated. Leonard Shlain believed that the Internet’s synthesis of the two hemispheres could mean humanity moving forward into a new, highly effective state of thinking. Add to that, Tiffany Shlain’s final ephiphany in the film, that there is nothing more important than our relationships with one another–and that technology can serve to support those relationships. In short, technology offers us the opportunity to evolve to our fullest potential.
Leonard and Tiffany Shlain’s hypothesis raises some compelling questions: where is technology taking us? If the Internet can balance the two hemispheres of our brain and create a future generation of Renaissance-thinkers, if our interdependence has the power to change the world, then what responsibility do we bear in using these gifts? When even something small can make a difference, are we then obligated to act? In raising these questions, Connected sparks a conversation that each of us should join to create a brighter future and a better connected world
Lauren McConnell is a writer who subsists on a healthy diet of Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami, T.S. Eliot, and Diana Wynne Jones. She is Assistant Editor for Wild River Review, a Professional Tutor at Rider University, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in English with a concentration in Medieval Literature at Rutgers University.
Lauren enjoys collecting antiques, growing orchids, and volunteering for her local animal shelter. In addition to writing poetry, fiction, and scholarly non-fiction, she enjoys drawing and painting when the mood strikes her. She lives with her fiancé and three cats in Hamilton, NJ.
Articles by Lauren McConnell
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