I recently watched a rerun of an episode of the ABC sitcom Modern Family called "Connection Lost" (season 6, episode 16) that was filmed entirely using Apple devices (genius!). Throughout the episode, Claire Dunphy connects with her family members through the FaceTime app on their iPhones, iPads and MacBooks to try to figure out what is going on with her daughter Haley, who seems to be missing. But instead of aiding their communication, we see how the devices they are using to connect with one another are actually distracting them. This connected distractedness is the underlying theme of the episode. When Claire announces, “We know everything!” to Haley in the final moments of the show, the truth is that they know nothing.
I think “Connection Lost” shows us that the writers of this episode understand that there are both advantages and disadvantages to mediated interaction, but the title of the episode and the narrative arc of the story lead me to believe that they are most focused on the negative impact that technology has on community. Phil Dunphy (perhaps one of the best characters currently on television) confesses to his wife Claire that playing the newest version of the video game Halo has inhibited his “quality time” with their son Luke, and he is so distracted by the game that he has no idea that both of his daughters are actually in the house with him. Throughout the episode, Claire gets distracted from the conversations she is having with her family by other apps on the very device she is using to connect with them. We are being shown that the source of our connectedness is also the source of our distraction.
Let's face it: it doesn’t take much for us to get distracted.
Technology is a great tool, but we cannot allow it to replace our need for real-life, eye-to-eye, personal relationships.
The episode brings it all together in the closing credits scene. We see Claire’s email inbox filled with several drafts of her daughter Alex’s college entrance essay. Each one starts with the same line: “Nietzsche believed that most culture exists purely to distract us from the truth."
There it is: the thesis statement of the entire episode.
Claire begins to read, but of course, she becomes distracted by Facebook. She fires off an email to Alex saying that she loves the changes, when in reality the only thing she read (that first line) had gone unchanged in each draft. Had she read just a few more sentences she would have seen a hidden massage from Alex: “I know you’re not reading this, mom.”
In the end, Claire’s lost connection with Haley has not made that much of an impact on her. She is still distracted.