Sundance Film ‘Wake Up’ Provokes Thoughts On Connecting Digitally To Escape A Physical World That Has Yet To Value All Its People

Written by Lauren DeLisa Coleman
At Sundance Film Festival,”Wake Up”, a film produced by computer-maker HP, unintentionally provokes thoughts on connecting digitally to escape bias in the physical world. Photo by Bakari Mustafa on Unsplash  

Technology is the subject of a number of films at the massive Sundance Film Festival, now underway through Feb. 1. Yet one film, surprisingly produced by Silicon Valley computer company HP, is particularly provocative on a number of levels.

“Wake Up” is a short film starring Margaret Qualley (“Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”) from Gotham and Indie Spirit-nominated director Olivia Wilde about a woman in a world that values connection with technology above nearly all else.

A select number of Sundance attendees were invited to a location on the main drag of the festival, aptly named Main Street. “Wake Up” was shown after cocktails and a brief introduction by HP Global CMO Cristina Bondolowski. Afterward, the group moved to an adjacent room for appetizers and a panel discussion with Wilde, Bondolowski and Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of the blog, “The Aesthetics of Joy”. The discussion hinged on massive fears around the growing attachment to tech devices and less focus on understanding self and connecting with others.

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While it may seem curious that a legacy tech company such as HP produced such a film, this topic falls right in line with HP’s philosophy of “people first,” according to the company’s chief marketing officer. So it made complete sense to support the project as a tech company that also could help society find the balance between tech usage and human connection.

Bondolowski said that HP is very conscious of the fact that technology should be used in the right way.

However, what is equally interesting to explore is what is “right.” What that means can vary from demographic to demographic, however, this film truly missed an opportunity by not further exploring such impact on Black people. Black people are constantly over-indexing across all tech usage and adoption, Nielsen consistently indicates. Could it be that technology actually helps better connect a segment that has been marginalized and excluded for centuries?

The film does not explore the impact on Black people. The main character is Caucasian and all is seen through the eyes of a high net-worth white team. We out-index in usage. Could the adverse impact be even more devastating to us? Could it actually be less and suffer what has been seen to be post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms that scientists say plague many Black people due to the impact of racism in our society?

Fears typically abound every time a new medium is introduced into our society. What is important to understand is that technology is never the cause of a particular behavior but what amplifies the behavior. A society that is driven by and lauds the individual and capital simply burrows such values down further via technology. If the society does not value connection with the individual initially, technology will have little to do with such seemingly negative behavior that has existed for decades upon decades.

The greater question here is how can we better define “connection” within such a society? How does one go about it? How can that section of society which holds power better connect with the voiceless for whom they seem to continually suggest a diminished use of the very technology that has given them a fraction of the power of voice that other demographics have enjoyed freely for centuries?

A film that stars, is directed and supported only by people of a similar demographic speaks volumes to the work still needed. We still have so very much cultural bias and privilege to discuss and overcome before we sound the alarm on the fact that so many of us are connected to our phones. This fact, however, is typically and conveniently skirted.

Indeed, perhaps many of us are connecting digitally to escape a physical world that has yet to value all its people.

Such is the provocation and discussion that only the Sundance setting can provide over nearly 10 days high atop the mountains.