Short Film: How technology shapes the human experience

When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, mass media was born. Technology has obviously evolved since then, growing through phases such as radio, television, and the device through which you are reading this article. These two short films examine how mass media has impacted human interaction in broad and personal senses – and may serve as a reminder of just how much impact it has on the lives of nearly every modern American.

Marshall McLuhan: It’s hard to remember a time before electronic devices dictated a good portion of our communication and information intake. Directed and animated by Daniel Savage, the short film contextualizes how important understanding the medium itself before you can fully understand the message it delivers.

“The medium is the message.” This is the most quoted line from Marshall McLuhan, who studied the changing media landscape back in the 1960s. “McLuhan wasn’t saying content was inconsequential – he was saying that when we pay to much attention to it, we ignore the power of form in shaping our experience,” says the film’s narrator, Alex Chow, who is a social activist in Hong Kong.

Highlighted by Savage’s eye-popping animation, the film serves as a reminder of just how impacted American society has been by the introduction of new technology. Access to such devices has shaped what we know, and in doing so has shaped how we identify ourselves. Since the invention of the printing press, humans’ exposure to information has changed the way we communicate. “Everything happens at once,” McLuhan said. “There’s no continuity. There’s no connection. There’s no follow through. It’s just all now.”

Check out more of Savage’s work here.

Cracked Screen: A Snapchat Story: Aim the camera. Hold the record button. Film and send. For many Snapchat users, uploading snapshots of their lives in brief 10-second segments for their friends to view is a routine part of their day. In Trim Lamba’s short film, though, this sharing captures a life-changing event.

Filmed entirely in Snapchat, Lamba tells a discomfortingly realistic story in Cracked Screen. Watching the film, the audience acts as a viewer to the Snapchat “stories” of a young woman in London (stories are photos or videos uploaded for entire friend lists to see, in case anyone without a smartphone is reading). Played by Chantelle Levene, the woman is a bubbly, over-sharing millennial who lives much of her life through her phone screen. She uploads videos of her fruitless job hunt, trips to the gym, and socializations – the mundane moments in life that don’t need to be recorded, but take up much of Snapchat’s data capacity anyway. Every Snapchat user has a friend like that.

It’s because of this that the film is so effective when, halfway through, it takes a sudden dark turn. After finally landing an elusive job, Levene’s character is filming her celebration in a parking lot just as she is assaulted. (We only catch a second long glimpse of some sort of liquid being thrown on her.) Stoic shots of flowers from well-wishers replace her obnoxious but endearing videos. Levene’s character, deeply affected by the incident, ultimately is forced to change her relationship with Snapchat – and the people who view her life through it.

“I wanted to test the resilience of the social avatar when faced with unpleasantness,” Lamba said of the film. In her debut acting performance, Levene captures the hairpin catch-22 of social media; gloating all of the positive, and sweeping aside all of the negative. What happens when you make too much of your life available to the public? Can you really trust your audience? Lamba and Levene put forth an excellent study into modern social philosophy with this film.

Watch Lamba’s other films here.