Being online feels like riding an infinite rollercoaster, at least if tech companies’ catchphrases are to be believed: Moving fast, doing good, dropping out. Zoning Out follows ambiguous identities whose offline realities slowly collide with what online spaces always claim to be but never are.
J is actually called James, but no one ever calls him that (especially not in virtual worlds, where he always chooses a witty pseudonym). J is somewhat basic and slightly boring, but he also represents something that people generally refer to as ‘normal’ (if only because of the sheer amount of people walking around with the same name). This gives him security and comfort, although he would probably deny it. J is a nice guy, but he has a problem. Like many others, J is tired of his daily routine: He feels that the confines of his everyday life are not allowing him to live his life to the fullest, and this makes him sad. He heard about a new online environment which is supposed to be pure ‘fun.’ In a theme-park-like environment, users are supposed to experience ‘good vibes only,’ as some of the early birds have posted on social media: Users reported that they felt like being on psychedelic drugs and that sparking honest and open connections with people was much easier than in real-life circumstances. J was hooked immediately.
Viewer discretion is advised: Some characters may appear as self-determined individuals, but the majority of their phrases are most likely already familiar to you. The dialogues of the characters largely correspond to the ideological framework of tech corporations: Their contents are borrowed from slogans, commercials and interviews with Californian tech gurus, as well as more subtle forms of digital depression such as pop-up windows in browsers, uninspired creations by an artificial writing intelligence, posts from social networks or chat conversations with desperate users—the film’s script is based almost exclusively on ‘true events,’ on ‘found footage’ from the depths of the digital. So it is perfectly okay to recognise yourself or your own operating system in this film. Enjoy the ride.