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More and More Movies are Reflecting Our Fear of the Internet
by Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

Horror author Grady Hendrix thinks that recent movies like Searching, in which internet commenters cruelly speculate on the fate of a missing girl, are a powerful reflection of our current anxieties about technology.

“There’s this idea that things are on the internet to be solved, or things are on the internet to be opined about,” Hendrix says in Episode 330 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And I feel like that really induces a kind of callousness. I don’t want to be one of those people who’s like ‘internet bad,’ but I do think that’s a behavior that media — television, radio, internet — has really catalyzed.”

Other films such as Tragedy Girls or The Den take things a step further, depicting worlds in which the internet financially rewards murder. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley says that’s uncomfortably close to the way that the internet currently incentivizes outrage.

“If you post anything that’s not angry it’s not going to go viral, and if you post something that’s angry it’s much more likely to go viral, and so the internet becomes this sort of supervillain anger-amplification machine,” he says. “And people are pumping out stories that are going to provoke people, and piss them off, and get them riled up, as part of their business plan.”

Of course most internet behavior is driven by simple attention-seeking, a theme explored in recent films such as Ingrid Goes West and Like Me. Science fiction author Anthony Ha admits to feeling the siren song of internet validation. “I’ve been guilty of this, absolutely,” he says. “There’s this feeling that, ‘The world needs to hear my opinion about this.’ This feeling of, ‘Can we be silent about this? Let me be the millionth person to explain that this thing is bad.'”

But not all movies are so dark. Writer Sara Lynn Michener enjoys films like A Simple Favor and The Circle, which offer a more nuanced view of technology.

“We’re treated, as a society, like we’re held captive and enslaved by this technology, that we’re being brainwashed by engineers to think a certain way, and I think some of that’s true,” she says, “but what doesn’t get discussed often enough is that there’s actually a fair amount of variability in terms of how you as an individual choose to use it, and respond to it, and there’s a lot out there that’s very positive.”

Listen to the complete interview with Grady Hendrix, Anthony Ha, and Sara Lynn Michener in Episode 330 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Anthony Ha on hate mobs:

“There’s this weird aggregating effect with the internet. In a small town everyone can decide that they hate you and show up at your door with pitchforks, but you have to be really mad to drive someone out of town. Or if you want to write an angry letter to the newspaper, there’s a certain amount of effort required to express displeasure. But the internet really creates this thing where even if you’re not that mad at somebody, if you’re just like, ‘This is stupid’ — if a thousand people say ‘this is stupid,’ individually that seems like a perfectly normal and justifiable thing to say, but then when you multiply it across the entire internet, it becomes really tough.”