English director Beeban Kidron is best known for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, but she’s a veteran director of social-issue documentaries. Here she looks at how the Internet is “outsourcing our children,” trading pornography and virtual friendships in exchange for marketing data.
Though the subject merits serious attention, the tone feels unduly alarmist, echoing panics of previous decades about things such as comic books and rap lyrics. The Internet and smartphones are blamed for everything from rape (a 15-year-old girl who endured gang assault to retrieve a stolen phone) to suicide from cyber-bullying, with side trips to porn and gaming addictions. A couple of more positive stories show a flash mob gathering and two young gay men meeting online before getting together in real life.
In between the teen testimonies, there’s a lineup of talking-heads commentators (Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte) who discuss how the online world, which promised an arena of creativity and free ideas, has become a place of marketing and surveillance. As WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange puts it, Google “knows more about you than your mother.”
Kidron’s major problem here is that this is a scattershot, unavoidably superficial look at a vast, multifaceted subject. One 86-minute film is not enough to deal with the way the Internet has changed us; it’s a subject fit for an extended series of mobile webisodes.