Millennials and technology: the relationship between the two in film
Grappling with the digital experience and constant distraction throws up many questions for both brands and humans. Mankind’s capacity to invent machines more powerful than people, rendering human input irrelevant, is something we are treading upon more and more. With the hotly anticipated Internet of Things right around the corner, it seems that millennials are the demographic most uncomfortable with looking into the shiny Huxley-esque void of the future. We have seen it manifested in the emerging trend for the Internet of Things, as well as the very real possibility of self-driving cars, a Google X development driven by the need to eliminate human error.
This persistent tension between millennials and devices has been explored in two very different films released over the last year. The first, Ex Machina, takes a sinister look at manipulative androids and the ability of technology to shape our human experience, while the second, While We’re Young, is a tale of two couples from different generations that cleverly subverts our preconception of Generation Z being glued to their phones.
While We’re Young showcases a cripplingly hip New York couple who have rejected technology in favour of battered VCRs, vinyl record players and a menagerie of chickens and kittens (a staple for all hipsters). This is juxtaposed with an older Generation X couple who like to hunker down with their Netflix, Hulu and Spotify accounts, all of which are perfectly synced and insulated within their tech bubble.
Google recently revealed that the average smartphone user checks their phone 150 times a day. But, in this film, twenty-somethings reject technology and occupy themselves with hip hop classes, urban cookouts and Shaman rituals. This highlights the experiential pedestal and how our generation is constantly looking for a solution to what Dave Coplin refers to as ‘the digital deluge’. It also chimes with a recent Mintel finding that nearly half of people aged 18 to 34 would rather spend money on experiences than products.
It is a longing to be in the present, rather than locked into their captivating devices, that seemingly unites millennials in While We’re Young. Meanwhile, the thirty-somethings are reluctantly dependent on their iPhones and digital entertainment providers, and the older couples chastise each other when incessant vibrations interrupt dinner (but also see it as an excuse to get back to their gadgets).
The distraction of technology is a defining issue for our generation. There is a false pre-conception that tech is easy, intuitive and facilitates our lives, yet many of us are overwhelmed by digital content and apathy quickly turns to irritation when we feel like brands are seeping into our private sphere. In the future, less will be more, and, with digital out of home and experiential on the rise, the least cluttered campaigns will be the most engaging of all.
Meanwhile, Ex Machina looks into the groggy future in a way that makes the Apple Watch seem obsolete. Here, digital behaviour is manifested in an android who longs for the human experience, and technology has become so ubiquitous that people fail to even notice how it is invisibly shaping their lives. It is a world where humans have been outwitted by the algorithms they once created A Google search, a newsfeed and silent operating systems that we aren’t aware of are constantly churning in the background, and we’re also introduced to a machine that’s able to exhibit intelligent behaviour indistinguishable from that of a human.
Although seemingly rooted in sci-fi, this film hints at the dizzying heights that tech could reach in the future, and how muddled our emotions could become when this happens. It plays out modern anxieties in an underhand way, but, interestingly, you end up rooting for a humanoid named Ava right up to final scenes when her manipulative and almost human behaviour is finally exposed. The setting itself, a harshly modernist lair nestled in the haunting Norwegian mountains, reflects the potentially isolating nature of technology and how harmful it could be for the human psyche.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that, in the near future, there could be a standoff between our fragile psyche and technology. Indeed, psychologist Simon Hampton has said that the connected devices designed to improve our lives could in fact risk denting our ego and irritating us on a daily basis. Sounds like a lose-lose situation. Hampton referred to this phenomenon as ‘mirror, mirror on the fridge’ – in other words, the point when our device tells us what we instinctively know, but choose not to follow. This attitude is well established within our human psyche – we all have a set moral, pragmatic compass engrained in our conscious mind that we often choose to aggressively disregard. Having a device re-confirming that we’re far from perfect will only inflame our sense of self. Hampton’s findings indicate that the sometimes irreconcilable nature of rational tech and irrational humans, as well as our unhealthy dependency on tech, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Millennials and tech are currently the best of frenemies, but if the balance tips we could be entering an age of virtual avatar bubbles and futile human connections, always captured by the ever-present iPhone screen. Millennials could soon become overwhelmed and disengaged with the bombardment of information, and seek enriching experiences and meaningful content and visuals to guide them through life. Brands who follow these rules in becoming facilitators in everyday life will succeed and won’t be rejected by the apathetic millennial.
It will always be the Ubers and Netflixes of the world – namely, the brands that enrich human experiences through tech, rather than throw up irrelevant content – who win eventually. That is, if the androids don’t take over first.