Dramatizing the digital life

Virginia Heffernan writes about the challenge of dramatizing the online life.

Anyone who has followed fantasy football or an eBay auction at the office — and gotten away with it — knows that many of our everyday activities now look like work. Typing and scrolling and peering at a computer, you could be doing anything: e-mail, accounting, short-selling, browsing porn, buying uranium, getting divorced.

This odd accident of life online — the increasing visual homogeneity of our behaviors — may be a boon to procrastinators, hobbyists and multitaskers. But it has some victims. I don’t mean bosses concerned with productivity (who cares about them?). The crowd truly stymied by the merging of human activities are filmmakers. If fighting now looks like making up now looks like booking travel, as it does when people conduct their affairs online, how do film directors make human action both dramatic to viewers and roughly true to life?

Another anachronism that drives me crazy in the movies is continued reliance on analog answering machines so that either the audience or some other person in a room can eavesdrop on a voicemail meant for another person. Who owns one of those machines anymore? It's a crutch for unimaginative storytellers.