InRealLife gives a perverse account of how digital technologies are changing the lives of teenagers

Establishment figures still fail to portray the Internet in a balanced light

Related Topics

Beeban Kidron’s latest documentary, InRealLife, opens with a portrait designed to shock its audience. Two fifteen-year-old boys are describing their use of Internet pornography – reliving a video in which a woman gives such a fast and vigorous blowjob that the guy on the receiving end comes “in like 20 seconds”. They turn and sweetly ask Kidron – the woman who brought us Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason - if she’d like to see it. She says yes.

Taking us beyond their humorous amazement at the extreme variety of sexual practices presented on the Internet, Kidron brings us into the inner worlds of these boys, and the effects that they feel pornography is having on them. They’re self-aware and articulate: they explain that they do want most girls to act in the same sexy way that they see in the pornos, but worry that occasionally, when they actually feel something for a girl, they will find that they’ve already been "damaged’"by other boys who have taken advantage of them.

But Kidron doesn’t really seem interested in the boys’ intelligence, or the fact that, recognizing this, they have the capacity to change. She seems to have already made up her mind that the internet, and digital technologies, are universally pretty bad things. Her next vignette follows the story of a teenage girl, who, having lost her Blackberry, effectively prostitutes herself to get it back. Her mother finds out and buys her a new phone, but this is then stolen by a group of boys on a train. The girl follows them to their house, and ends up performing sex acts on them in order to get it back.

For Kidron, it seems undeniable that the girl’s attachment to her Blackberry, and her constant need for digital interaction, are what led her down this dangerous path. Unfortunately, in this case, her assumption is quite hard to refute. Yet it’s a bleak tale, and one which, rather than presenting new norms in the way that people interact, leaves you wondering: ‘Where did she find these people?’. The mounting sense of doom for teens today is compounded by a gang of talking heads who warn that incessant communication prevents the development of a person’s sense of who they are: the girl, here, is put up as a hollow shell of a person, with no sense of self-preservation or self-respect because she has no self to preserve or respect. There’s never any question in the film that all her interaction allows her, in fact, to reflect on and understand herself more deeply, and there’s no recognition that people often discover more about themselves by speaking to other people, even if this is through BBM.

The one ray of light in InRealLife comes from the story of Tom, a gay teen living in the north of England, who, when we first meet him, has not yet come out to his parents. Amazingly, he’s managed to keep a long-term relationship with another boy under wraps for over a year: they’ve met on the Internet, though not in the real world. Here, finally, we see the flip-side of all this abstract interaction – the ability to develop a sense of who you are online, while sat in a physical world that might prevent you from doing so. And in spite of this, Kidron manages to approach their relationship in the same patronizing “I can’t believe what I’m hearing” manner with which she interviews her other subjects. When the young lovers finally meet, they’re shown entertaining themselves by rubbing their phones back-to-back as a way of transferring files. The fact that Kidron lingers on this image looks as though she’s taking a dig at the boys, staging their phone-frottage as a poor substitute for physical intimacy “in real life”.

Kidron’s film is ambitious – she certainly pulls together some brilliant digital theorists (including danah boyd, Cory Doctorow and Julian Assange), and travels as far as the North Pole in an attempt to understand how the Internet works, and what it might be doing to change us. There is even a coda at the end, thanking the hundreds of teenagers and their parents who contributed to the making of the film. Yet while this should be a mark of the depth of research that has gone into this documentary, it instead reveals the opposite: that the makers of this film approached it with an idea firmly lodged in their heads, and have had to search far and wide for information with which to support it.

Rather than exploring and sketching out the new norms of social interaction in the digital age, Kidron’s documentary gives us the most extreme divergences from these emerging standards. She wants us to perceive the Internet as she seems to understand it: as a force which has the power to profoundly degrade people’s offline lives. What we see if we look beyond this, though, are not teenagers passively moulded by their online interactions, as David Cameron might want us to believe as part of his limp-fisted campaign against web porn, but the fact that respected establishment figures (Kidron was created a life peer and introduced to the House of Lords in 2012) – and even those such as Kidron who are devoted to understanding the changing, networked world – are still severely blinkered by their own unexamined prejudices.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently looking fo...

Year 3/4 Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Job Share Year 3/4 Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The racist abuse of Mario Balotelli on Twitter is disgusting, but it can be stopped

Anna Jonsson
A survey by Which? found that some of the UK’s biggest airports, including Heathrow, left travellers the most agitated  

Third-runway momentum is gathering. We need to stop it in its tracks

Mary Dejevsky
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments