January 24th, 2017
by Bobby Henzler
The first panel of the forum opened with a short introduction by Philipp Kanske, who explained that be a better being is an experiment due to its unusual concept: The event brings together film-makers and academics to discuss social phenomena in reaction to screenings of films on the topic of “being a better being”. Why exactly does the Junge Akademie want to organize an event like this? In order to make that clear right off the bat, Philipp Kanske quoted Magdalena Nowicka, one of the project leaders: When scientists are lost for words, film gives the answers. The questions scientists ask and investigate are often very similar to the questions posed and explored by film-makers.
Films can approach many questions in a much more open way than a researcher because they are not bound by the rigid system of academic research. Films can capture emotions, show ambiguities, and can touch us as an audience in a way that academia cannot. On the other hand, academia can make things explicit, concrete, can crystallize issues and put them into a comprehensible language.
As project leaders, we hoped that the event would serve as mutual inspiration for film-makers and academics, and for the audience members as well.
The “What a Difference a Day Makes…” session started with a screening of the short film Enact by Regan Avery and The Learning Alliance by Muhammad Umar Saeed.
Hilke Brockmann, of Jacobs University, who conducts research on demographic change and its effect on wellbeing, argued that the effort to be a better being is not something that we claim to attempt on an everyday basis, but that the better being is a standard demand that we make of ourselves. It is an approach that is closely related to religious attitudes and to the idea of sticking to norms and rules.
The concept of being a better being has links with research in general and with Hilke Brockmann’s research in particular. People’s occupation with being a better being is a development that can be observed in different sciences such as sociology or economics. In her research, Hilke Brockmann tracks people and observes their conditions. Her approach treats the aspiration or attempt to be a better being not in a philosophical but in an empirical way by looking at the question: Under what circumstances do people evaluate their lives as happy? In that respect, both of the films have a lot to do with Hilke Brockmann’s academic questions.
For this panel report, we’ll focus on the discussion initiated by the short film Enact by Regan Avery.
Enact connects very nicely to Hilke Brockmann’s research because her team is currently programming an app that does exactly what the fictional app in Enact does. Hilke Brockmann’s team is trying to track parents, who are often very normative, and their child-rearing efforts. As a parent, one transmits certain values to one’s child. Hilke Brockmann’s project aims to find out what people deem necessary and worthwhile in order to have a better life. The researchers seek to understand what parents think, and what they want to give or pass on to their children. To support them in this research, the team has tried to develop a happiness app to track parents and their children throughout their daily lives. The drawback is the sense that the subjects are being spied on, or that the team is trying to force them to constantly reflect on whether or not they are “good” at parenting. But that is not the researchers’ goal; they want to learn what the parents would define for themselves as being “better”. However, new technologies such as apps have self-optimization at their core. We are all using technologies for constant optimization, which stresses us out and brings us more regrets than a release.
For Helene Moltke-Leth, Enact is a very precise portrait of conditions nowadays. During the discussion, she emphasized that we all have so many to do lists that we are living this app on a daily basis. In reality, she argued, we do not need such an app, because we already live that way, and that these to do lists are taking us over. Helene Moltke-Leth also pointed out that we produce an image of ourselves in social media that is fantastic, but that in reality our lives is much more complex. She is also working on this issue in her film Running through Life.
The panel discussion then moved on to the different types of values we are confronted with these days and where the expectations for being a better being are coming from. Humans tend to have many more relative values than absolute values. The point is that we compare, because we are flexible beings. We have to adapt to various and changing environments and we do that with our ability to compare. For example, we use that comparative ability to find a partner. We compare to see if we are attractive enough, speak enough, etc. These are all relative measurements.
Social media produces a lot of particular information. This type of information is very different to the kind produced by face-to-face interactions, which deliver a lot of subtle social information that is not so easy to compare. Social media enables us to obtain a lot of information, something that could bring a lot of pressure, but could also free one person. Technologies themselves are neither positive nor negative, it is the people using them who put them to a positive or negative use. Unfortunately, social media technologies are part of markets, like the fashion market, and as a result have the ability to produce a lot of pressure. But we could exploit these technologies in a way that suits us more. The act of comparison within the world of social media is a tricky issue, because the new technologies produce a lot of perfect pictures in which people always look fantastic. But of course, we must keep in mind that these are very artificially produced pictures. We have to learn to cope with this new kind of over-picturing. It is a question of proper impression management. It is not new that we want to impress, but the intensity of this behaviour the world over is a new thing.
With the screening of Däwit by David Jansen and Bacon & God’s Wrath by Sol Friedman, the topic of discussion changed to religion, its boundaries and the damage it can cause as well as the benefits that spiritual systems can provide for human beings.
The subsequent conversation was quite intense and touched on a lot of aspects of being a better being in our daily lives. “What a Difference a Day Makes” ended with a screening of When I Stop Looking by Todd Herman.
Many thanks to Hilke Brockmann, Helene Moltke-Leth and the chair of the session, Anna Henckel Donnersmarck, for the inspiring discussion.
For more information about Session 1 What a difference a day makes… klick here >>>
To learn more about Session 2 Ain`t No Way klick here >>>
Bobby Henzler is a scriptwriter but has an academic background as well . She is responsible for the coordination of the project, the film section and the curation committee of be a better being.