We all know technology is going to be the end of us. We live in an age in which we all ignore the fact that TikTok is a vehicle for the Chinese government to collect our information, while covering a laptop’s camera with a band-aid is becoming an increasingly popular practice. But does any of this paranoia mean that we’re going to stop using our technology altogether? Will the flip phone make a comeback in 2020? Doubtful. And even as it becomes increasingly clear that technology is an integral part of our lives whether we like it or not, Olivia Wilde’s (“Booksmart”) newest short, “Wake Up,” follows an unnamed woman in a world “where people are more engaged with screens and devices than with each other,” according to a press email from Wilde’s publicist.
Despite its visual appeal, “Wake Up” does nothing for the conversation it attempts to create. The short film, as posited by the filmmakers at the premiere, is meant to encourage a balance between humans and technology that is supposedly missing from this day and age. In this regard, the Sundance event was supposedly “phone-free” and, hypothetically, everyone would have their phones in a locked case that would only be opened when leaving the event. But despite the coordinators’ best efforts, phones were still out and documenting the premiere of a film meant to discourage that exact behavior.
The 10 and a half minute film failed to realize its audience and reach — the general public won’t see “Wake Up” at the Sundance Film Festival, with Olivia Wilde there to explain what it’s supposed to be telling you. No, the short is going to be consumed on Twitter, passed around by the very thing it claims to denounce, with the sole message that we’re going to end up bleeding on the ground if we don’t “wake up.” Without the introduction by the director or the ruminations of a panel following the film, this nuance is lost. It isn’t a spoiler for me to tell you that Margaret Qualley’s (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) character ends up in the hospital for her phone addiction because that’s how every single story about “disconnecting” goes. And this might hit hard for a minute, but then whoever is scrolling is going to keep scrolling with only a vague feeling that maybe they should get off their phone.
As an avid fan of “Booksmart,” I was disappointed to see such a contrite idea come from Wilde. There was nothing new to this concept — we all know we spend too much time on our phones, but if you’re not willing to toss out the iPhone for a Motorola Razor or get rid of your phone altogether, the conversation “Wake Up” tries to spark is all but over. Eventually, though, it became clear in the post-film fireside chat that this idea didn’t come from Wilde herself. Instead, the concept itself came from HP, a fact that restored my faith in Wilde’s ability as a director.
And so, none of this is to say that Wilde and Qualley didn’t do a good job with what they had — it’s just that what they had was a cliché, irrelevant corporate message from HP. The fireside chat further revealed the questionable nature of this short film. It could be argued that HP is doing a good thing in supporting the arts, in trying to “start” a conversation around our technology use. But when the director of the film asks us to consider who exactly is controlling what technology we use, after producing a film commissioned by those same people, the irony is clear. Those in power don’t even know they hold the power or, if they do, they’re desperately trying to convince us otherwise.