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Connected—Tiffany Shlain's New "Autoblogography"

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Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain invented a word for her film that crosses genres between documentary and memoir and explores how technology alters our sense of relationship.

Tiffany Shlain’s new movie, “Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology, opens with her talking about going out to lunch with a friend whom she hadn’t seen for years, having a great conversation with her... and Shlain getting the urge to check her email.

“I think that story was to represent how I’ve changed my behavior,” Shlain said. “Before it was like, ‘Oh, my God, that person is so rude.’ Now I have become that person, and I’m not alone. I think everyone is not acknowledging how weird or rude that is. Whenever I bring it up, people want to talk about it.”

Shlain hopes the movie will inspire people to get in all sorts of conversations about technology changing behavior and what it means to be connected in the 21st century. The movie was at Sundance this year and officially opened in theaters in September, but already Shlain had been holding screenings at all sorts of places for all sorts of groups, trying, she says, to get those discussions going.

“People are really ready to talk about this,” she said. “Tech is a very powerful thing that has changed everyone’s lives. I just want them to have the opportunity to have a conversation about it. Is it good? Bad? Hopeful?”

Shlain is founder of the Webby Awards, infamous for their five-word acceptance speeches, which honor excellence on the Internet. She said she has always been drawn to technology.

“In high school, I was given a Mac, one of the first ones,” she said. “It was 1984, and I had a best friend whose family was from Iran, so we had computers with modems and we’d talk about wouldn’t it be amazing if we all had computers that could connect us and we could all talk to each other in different countries. I was a student ambassador to the Soviet Union to talk about the power of computers.”

Shlain went to film school at the University of California, Berkeley, and decided that would be her method of communicating with large numbers of people. Then she heard about the Web.

“I thought that this was the tool,” she said. “I fell in love with the potential of it.”

Shlain still sees that potential, even as she recognizes some of the negative effects of the Internet.

“Any technology we talk about I could tell you three good things and three bad things,” she said. “Tech is neither good nor bad nor neutral. It’s an extension of who we are as humans. Tech is us, and humans are good and bad, but I believe at the core we’re good.”

In “Connected,” Shlain said she wanted to explore how we are all interdependent, as well as the links between such issues as environmentalism, health care and reproductive rights that we mostly talk about in isolation of one to the other. She collaborated on the movie with her father, surgeon and author Leonard Shlain, who wrote books on the connection between art and physics and the difference between the right and left brain. While making the movie, her father was diagnosed with brain cancer and given nine months to live. At the same time, Shlain began a high-risk pregnancy. She decided to incorporate these two life-changing events into the film, and explore emotional connection as well.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Shlain said about telling these stories in the movie. “This is my ninth film, and I’ve never been in one of my movies. It was the scariest thing I’ve done by far to expose these very personal thoughts, but I felt like I needed to speak my truth to speak to a universal truth.”

“Connected” has very little original footage. Rather Shlain uses archival footage, animation and some home movies. She said she has always felt with so many existing images, there’s no need to shoot new ones.

“Conventional filmmaking makes me feel like I’m in a box,” she said. “When I went to UC Berkeley, I used to find things in the dusty closets of film collectors. Now I find everything on the web.”

“Connected” is a women’s story, Shlain says.

“I’m so grateful I’m alive when there’s the Internet so I can be a working mom and pick my kids up at school,” she said. “I think the Internet is the tool the women’s movement has always needed.”

Since making the movie, though, Shlain says she and her family take a weekly break from that tool.

“Every Friday evening we turn off all the screens for 24 hours,” she said. “It’s about being present with people you love and knowing when to turn off the technology.”

Connected is opening in various California cities and Portland in September and in Seattle, New York City and Denver in October.

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