AdAge recently drew my attention to this project from the always innovative and provocative Mother London. At the last Internet Week Europe, Mother decided to run an experiment in digital fasting. (I don’t think I need to point out the irony of that). No Internet Week.
I watched the entire piece, and instead of being nudged into rethinking my own internet habits, it infuriated me. Not because the message isn’t important, but that it’s delivered with such a sense of superiority and snobbishness, that it undermines it’s whole point.
The experiment actually starts off well. The diverse nature of the group selected shows how pervasive and cross generational the phrase ‘digital native’ has become (especially with it’s heavy associations with Millennials). The initial days of no digital interactions are actually quite revealing.
Then the wheels fall off.
The shift this film takes is one that you increasingly see across the digital landscape. It’s the idea that somehow ‘switching off’, taking an internet break, is a badge of honor, of one-upmanship, that the Internet is a stark choice of addiction or absolution. I myself have been guilty of this, a few years ago, I posted on here a post called ‘Cabin Porn’. It’s beautiful pictures of isolated cabins, sparked a moment in me where I felt I needed to curb, or at least revel in those moments that were not dominated by the internet. In the intervening years, this idea has gone ‘overground’. Just today, I saw a rather excellent press ad from Guinness that talks directly to the pervasiveness of phones on pub tables. Bands are increasingly asking their fans to put away their phones and iPads (shudder) when at a gig. While these push-backs are relatively embryonic, they do illustrate a culture where the personal regulation of internet usage becomes a cultural norm.
It’s easy to forget that we are not even a decade into the smart phone era. Indeed, many people online were staggered to recollect that the iPhone only came out in 2007. We are still grappling with technologies that are barely out of their teens, and in the smart phones case, not even out of the 2nd grade.
But these aren’t arguments that this experiment is interested in dealing with. The point taken is that the Internet is somehow a life-sucking, disruptive, destroyer of relationships and interactions. Instead of promoting or contextualizing what smart digital usage looks and acts like, we’re left with a typically British (and deeply Calvinist) sense of self flagellation. That when we binge, we deserve to be punished. To have our toys taken away as punishment. There is no idea of moderation. Simply of absolution.
When sensitive, smart films like ‘Her’ explore our relationships with technology in very human and thought provoking ways, the shrillness of ‘No Internet Week’ becomes even more pronounced. Maybe if it treated the Internet and their behaviors with the maturity it deserves then maybe the insights would have been a bit more useful to others, not just the participants.