‘InRealLife’: the perils of the internet

Although it was first released five years ago, Beeban Kidron’s documentary “InRealLife,” about the effects of the internet on frequent users – particularly young people – holds up as a well-documented cautionary tale.

I caught the movie on Amazon the other night and was impressed by Kidron’s ability to get young people talking frankly about their compulsive use of social media, gaming and porn. The filmmaker clearly gained the trust of her subjects but handles them sensitively.

One teen who told Kidron in a preliminary street interview that porn is the best thing on the internet invited her into his home. She spent enough time with him (and a friend) to get the boy to talk honestly about the problems his porn addiction has caused.

The cornucopia of porn available from thousands of free sites allows users to zero in on sex object types they prefer and to focus on them obsessively. Kidron wisely stays off camera and keeps her remarks to a minimum as the boy shows a very brief clip that is his favorite. He admits, in passing, that his porn watching causes him to chase after girls who will do the same things he sees in the clips, but once they comply with his wishes they become “slags” he wouldn’t have a serious relationship with.

The teen says matter of factly that his porn watching has left him feeling that the idea of old-fashioned love might be impossible in the internet age. Porn and hook-up apps are getting in the way of building real relationships.

Kidron went to the best experts to ground her own on-the-street research. MIT professor Sherry Turkle (who is one of my favorite authorities on this subject) talks about her fears that kids who grow up with screens 24/7 won’t have any of the solitude that is necessary to develop the self awareness we need to go out into the world. She also interviews Nicholas Carr whose book “The Shallows” digs deeply into internet addiction.

The 90-minute “InRealLife” is so jam-packed with good interviews, and forthcoming teens, that I wish Kidron could turn it into a multi-part series.

“I come from the school who thought the internet could be the great democratising force,” the filmmaker told The Guardian, “that getting rid of the gatekeepers was a positive move. But equally I believe we shouldn’t ever duck problems. The thing I have come to find astonishing is that people from all political sides routinely say that the internet has to be the model of free speech and freedom. I wonder where else the level of freedom these kids are faced with exists? Why on the internet and only on the internet?”