Can you imagine modern life without the internet? Today it seems like we‘re always plugged in, but it wasn‘t long ago that logging on to "cyberspace" was seen as something novel or even dangerous. Movies have been exploring our evolving relationship with technology for decades now through thought-provoking dramas, incisive satires, and entertaining sci-fi fantasies.
Let‘s countdown the 10 best movies that capture different aspects of the internet phenomenon and how it impacts society. Make some popcorn and get ready to geek out on film!
The Early Days of Excitement and Fear
It‘s hard to believe the internet only started entering mainstream consciousness in the 90s. At the beginning, movies portrayed logging on as something wondrous yet precarious. Cult classics like The Net (1995) and Hackers (1995) depicted cyber thrillers about dangerous forces lurking online. At the same time, lighthearted romantic comedies like You‘ve Got Mail (1998) also emerged, playing up the excitement of forging new relationships through technology.
Of course, no movie captured the wonder and fear of the burgeoning internet era quite like The Matrix (1999). It became influential in simulation theory and virtual reality circles for its depiction of the world as an artificial reality powered by enslaved humans. This groundbreaking movie gets an 88% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes and inspired many philosophical debates about the nature of reality and consciousness. Pretty heady stuff for a sci-fi blockbuster!
According to the Pew Research Center, only 46% of American adults used the internet back in 2000. But that number would soon skyrocket.
Growing Pains in the 2000s
In the early 2000s, movies explored the growing pains of our embrace of the internet age. After the dot-com bubble burst, more cynical takes began to emerge about technology‘s unfulfilled promises. Movies like 2001‘s AntiTrust portrayed sinister corporations seeking to monopolize the online space. Similarly, the dramatic thriller Disconnect (2012) depicted the dark underbelly of the world wide web, from predators lurking in chat rooms to ruined reputations based on social media mobs and misinformation.
As psychologist Dr. Shayna Goldstein told me, "Films like Disconnect touched a nerve by showing our dismay at losing control over our privacy and identity as everything moves online."
With the rise of Web 2.0 and social media in the 2000s, movies also began focusing on themes of internet addiction and diminishing social skills thanks to endless screen time immersion. This concern seems quaint now that 84% of American adults use the internet daily, but technology fears adapt with the times. For example, recent hits like Ready Player One (2018) posit dystopian futures where humanity escapes perpetual crises through fixation on virtual reality and online gaming.
Our Complex Relationship with Social Media
As social media has come to dominate the online landscape in the late 2000s and early 2010s, movies increasingly portrayed its double-edged nature. The Social Network (2010) depicted the legal battles surrounding the founding of Facebook and how technology can isolate people even as it connects them. Meanwhile, the documentary Catfish (2010) demonstrated the murkier human impacts of living online, from catfishing schemes to potentially misplaced intimacy with strangers.
More recently, teen films like Eighth Grade (2018) provide poignant takes on social anxiety and cyberbullying amplified by social media. Things take a darker turn in psychological thrillers like Nerve (2016), where an online truth or dare game spirals dangerously out of control.
So while the internet has connected the world like never before, movies highlight our ambivalence about whether heightened connectivity has made life better or worse. But beyond reflecting societal fears, flicks like Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) also show that when used conscientiously, technology can foster community.
The Internet Continues to Shape Us
The internet has only been around for a few decades, but it‘s clear that it‘s reshaped modern life in nearly every way. While movies have focused heavily on the potential downsides, the truth is complicated. The internet has made knowledge more democratic, offered tools for political organizing, and given voices to marginalized groups. And yet concerns about privacy, misinformation, and technology addiction still loom large.
Filmmakers are just starting to explore the nuances of how the online world impacts our psychology, relationships, and society. As our use and understanding of the internet evolves, movies will likely continue to hold up a mirror that reflects our anxieties, but also our hopes. What matters is that we heed the warnings in films that resonate with us personally and use the power of technology responsibly to improve life rather than escape from it.
Now it‘s your turn – what other great movies have meaningfully explored this brave new online world that we‘re all still figuring out? Let‘s keep the conversation going!