Friday, January 25, 2013

Do you remember the Internet?

Yesterday Microsoft launched a new campaign around their update to Internet Explorer, with a video entitled “Child of the 90’s”. The slightly micro-soft-touch video aimed to tug at our Gen Y heartstrings with memories of pogs, tamagotchi’s, slap bands and - you guessed it - “the browser you loved to hate”. To use a term coined by The Future Laboratory, “netstalgia” is in full force, as me and my contemporaries begin to fondly remember the good old days of dial-up broadband and phones the size of a Fiat Punto. For the perhaps the first time, it’s now possible to market web-based services with the rose-tint of nostalgia, rather than the blinding glint of innovation. 

On a similar, if somewhat, tangential note, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the internet on film. Whether it’s about retrospective storytelling (The Social Network, Jobs) or the web as a narrative device (HBO’s Girls will be my primary reference for this), filmmakers are facing an increasingly challenge of making screens, code and online activity as visually exciting as the real world action taking place in the story.

I am loathe to give Lena Dunham any more column inches, but her integration of the Internet within the plot and lives of her characters marks a watershed moment for film and TV. We can no longer pretend that online interactions aren’t contributing to the momentum of a contemporary storyline. I’m not talking “You’ve Got Mail”, where an occasional screen-shot of an email revealed the characters’ burgeoning relationship. Technology has made human interaction complex - a broad range of subtle cues from across a range of platforms now impact the trajectory of our lives. 

But if people looking at screens is boring, do we have to invent a new cinematic style to literally show the deep subtext taking place in the virtual world? For some reason, I keep returning to this video.

It’s gaudy, it’s over the top, and it’s French.... but it kind of works. I may be part of a generation that gets “netstalgic” for when life took place on just a few platforms, when the protagonists we watched on TV had only to wait by the just one phone for her life to change. But, to the generations behind me, this kind of overt meta data, is an intrinsic part of their world view. And film and TV need to reflect that if they are going to continue to tell rich, meaningful stories about characters we believe in, love and remember forever.