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

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.  

The Only Way is Ethics: The birth of a royal baby will not top the news for long

Will Gore
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk