The film Wall E takes place in a (not too) distant dystopian future where earth has been made uninhabitable by humans. Wall-E is a waste disposal robot that was designed to ‘clean’ earth so one day humans could return. This scene takes place on board the spaceship Axiom, where humans are living while earth is being ‘cleaned’. The most obvious messages conveyed in this film are those surrounding technology-induced laziness and the negative effects of consumerism. The film makers also draw on existing ideologies and fears about technology and digital media and create an image of the society we may become. There is also a large focus on the importance of environmentalism, stemming from the ideas surrounding consumer culture, and these messages are rather obvious from the very beginning of the film. However various passive ideologies in the film relate to post-humanism and human relationships (with technology and each other). While this is a fantastic film to try analyse I will be focussing on the scenes below and looking more closely at human relationships to technology and digital media and the ways that these are negatively portrayed in the film.
In this first scene we follow Wall-E as he tries to find Eva and he nearly runs into a man, who is sitting in flying armchair type of vehicle on what resembles a busy road. The man is talking to a screen that is projected in front of him. We as the audience are positioned to see this scene from Wall-E’s point of view as he looks at the man, the vehicle and the screen he is talking to. As the camera pans out the audience also see that the two men talking to each other on screens are actually sitting next to one another. As Wall-E is the character that the audience is positioned to identify with, and we see the scene from his perspective, his surprised reaction is most likely one that the audience will relate to.
This image also really draws on Sherry Turkle’s idea that “we’re getting used to the idea of being alone, together” (2012) and that sitting in a room together, on several devices or talking via technology instead of face to face, is becoming the norm. Perhaps by showing the humour and irony of this situation, the director attempts to make audiences really think about their relationships and how they communicate with people around them. Turkle (2012) also notes that we tend to reach for our devices just to feel connected, even if that communication isn’t meaningful. This whole scene is busy, fast moving and creates a sense of a hectic lifestyle, yet when we listen to the conversation the two men are having they seem bored by their monotonous lives.
“We could head over to the driving range and hit a few virtual balls into space,”
The response from the other man is “Nah.. we did that yesterday, I don’t want to do that…”
This creates the idea that despite the constant appearance of being ‘busy’, their lifestyles are actually rather dissatisfying, boring and lazy. This not only draws comparisons between our present technology oriented lifestyles but might even make the audience think about our need for constant stimulation, entertainment, and the need to multitask because we’re so ‘busy’. While the scene is drawing mostly on the negative ideas surrounding consumerism, it’s also drawing attention the idea of screen culture and associates ‘screens’ and digitised media with laziness and obesity. The two men are the first real people we see in the movie and this scene immediately creates the representation of this future version of ourselves – lazy, obese and bored.
This next scene shows Wall-E attempting to get to Eva, however the most interesting part of the scene is the character Mary and her reaction to the world around her when her screen switches off. She gasps in surprise and almost horror when she looks around her, almost as though she's just woken up. This scene creates the idea that she’s been so ‘busy’ and consumed by the screen in front of her, that she’s never actually seen anything around her before.
We're using technology to communicate more and more, that we no longer have 'real' relationships or even the ability to form meaningful connections. Healy (2011; 324) notes, Australians now spend more time communicating with friends and family online than they do participating in face to face communication. Flanagin and Metzger (2008; 5) also note that “personal and social identity is often established and known primarily or exclusively through computer-mediated interactions”.
This movie shows that we rely so heavily on technology and digital media to help us keep in touch and we do communicate more, but in a much less meaningful way. Mary’s amazement and surprise at the world around her is demonstrated even further by the next clip where she follows Wall-E off the transport, looks around and sees another thing she’s never seen before and yells, “I didn’t know we had a pool!” This implies that she’s never even been to that part of the ship and has no idea of where she is, or even what is actually beyond the screen in front of her. This could also extend to the idea that without meaningful connections and the ability to communicate with people, humans lose their desire to learn and travel and explore the world around them.
This final scene simply reinforces the negative ideologies surrounding technology. There is a strong connection between obesity and consumerism, the inability to communicate and reliance on technology to simplify and control our lives. This film simply draws on the negative aspects of technology where we as a society do tend to rely too heavily on technology and digital media and it has affected our ability to only form relationships but also to communicate. Turkle sums this up by stating that our reliance on technology has grown out of demand for someone to listen to us. "The feeling that no one is listening makes us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us" (Turkle, 2012).
Flanagin, A & Metzger, M 'Youth, Credibility, and Digital Media: Unparalleled Opportunity and Unprecedented Responsibility', in Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility. Edited by Metzger, M & Flanagin, A, pp 5 – 27.
Healey, J 2011, Social Impacts of Digital Media, Issues in Society, Spinney Press, Thirroul, N.S.W.
Turkle, S. (2012, February). Sherry Turkle: ‘Connected, but alone?’ [Video File]. Retrieved on 9/10/2013 from: <http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html>