A new film, Web, documents children in Peru as they use a computer and connect to the internet for the first time.
On his birthday last week, documentary film director Michael Kleiman found himself bombarded with virtual greetings. "To get those Facebook messages from people all over the world on your birthday was really nice," he says. Premiering Nov. 16 at the DOC NYC festival, Kleiman's new film, Web (Righteous Pictures), gets to the heart of communication in the digital world.
On the surface, the feature-length documentary is about the benefits and complications of digital connections, and the potential impact of global connectivity. At a deeper level, it's about relationships, says Kleiman, who spent ten months documenting villagers in the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Jungle in Peru as they had their first experiences with computers and the internet via the One Laptop Per Child program. He also interviewed thought leaders like Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley, Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, and One Laptop founder Nicholas Negroponte.
One can't help but wonder if the price we pay for the vast geographic scope of our connections is their quality. Especially in a city like New York, where fleeing eye contact on the subway can feel intimate, it's easy to hide behind our devices. Meanwhile, in close relationships, we forget how to "connect." Kleiman sees this dichotomy clearly. And while Web doesn't dub global connectivity as "good or bad," it encourages us to think about the about the macro and micro implications of our digital world. Resources like our phones and iPads and umpteen apps should be used to improve our lives, "without overdoing it and losing something that's really important," like true connection.
One such important moment for Kleiman was when one of the fathers of the families he lived with in the mountains asked him not to forget about them. Says Kleiman, "For me, it's impossible to forget people, because I see their lives every day on Facebook. But when you don't have that connectivity, it's powerful to know there's somebody on the other side of the world who knows you and is thinking of you, and that gives your life some meaning . . . We lose sight of that power because we take it so for granted. But even those birthday on Facebook moments are powerful because you recognize how much you mean to people all over."