"Screened Out" — Score: 31/2 Stars = (***1/2) Out of 4 Stars
(Dark Star Pictures, N/R)
About halfway through "Screened Out," psychotherapist Dr. Nicholas Kardaris — one of the dozens of experts interviewed on screen — compares smartphones to other vices. "We wouldn’t let five-year-olds gamble or do cocaine . . . but we’ve exposed an entire generation to this highly compulsive, habit-forming and addictive experience [smart phones]."
A bold statement indeed and one containing perhaps a tad too much hyperbole but before co-writer/director/producer/editor/narrator Jon Hyatt’s scant 71 minute documentary concludes it will end up making all kinds of sense.
Another passage in the film compares smartphones to the printing press, comic books, TV, and even the Beatles — as they were perceived at the time of their inception to be detrimental to society.
All of these entities are vessels for delivering messages, so is it fair to blame them for societal ills?
Hyatt never answers that question — but then again, an answer is not required.
Like the internet, smartphones were designed to bring people closer together — and in many ways they have — but like the internet, smartphones in other ways have achieved the exact opposite effect.
They have transformed us into a mass collective of reclusive individuals; unaware of our physical surroundings — 21st century, wired-in hermits.
Prior to the COVID-19 scare, we met in groups but often failed to make eye contact or even speak to each other for fear we’d miss the latest posting on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Our collective attention spans have dropped in the last decade from 12 seconds to eight seconds. The attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds — that’s really sad.
If you think the obsession with social media and the devices that relentlessly deliver gigabytes of minutia to us is just a byproduct of wanting to stay informed, think again.
In three back-to-back interviews during the film, Sean Parker, Chamath Palihapitiya, and Nir Eyal (all former executives at Facebook) readily admit (almost brag) that the algorithms of the site were carefully designed to deliver euphoric, faux-dopamine rushes to the user.
They were conceived to be addictive.
Have you ever wondered why Facebook has no ads and is free to use yet is conservatively worth over $133 billion? It’s because the user, not the site itself, is the product.
Based on information contained in the movie, the average person will spend 15 years of their life not with on-line retailers but rather social media outlets.
For teens, that number will surely go up as they age.
They spend an average of 7.5 hours per day on their phones.
The average person checks their email over 150 times a day.
No wonder all social media is free.
The Big Four social media companies (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube) are monitoring everything you view then sending it all right back to you in the form of advertising goods and services for which you’ve already shown more than a passing interest.
It’s the most efficient and least costly form of marketing ever conceived and the fallout is only starting to become clear.
The number of electronic media "rehab" centers have spiked in number over the last decade (as have teen suicide rates). In South Korea, there are over 400 such institutions currently in operation. Another interesting factoid presented in the movie: the exclusive Waldorf School in San Francisco — which caters mostly to the children of high-tech industry executive parents — prohibits the use of smartphones and next to no access to the Internet for students during school hours.
What do they know that we don’t?
Recognizing the effect of being so in touch was taking a toll on his family, Hyatt, his wife, and their three young sons went semi-cold turkey for a month. "Semi" as in going online was restricted to just two hours on the weekends.
Before the month was over, the boys had been "weaned," were spending more time outside and began to exhibit previously untapped creative tendencies.
For those of us who grew up when there were three (maybe four) local TV channels, and three major television networks, no concept of an internet and the highest-tech device (if you were lucky) was an analog answering machine, shaking the electronic monkey off of our backs might be easier. Yet, during the time it took writing this review (two hours), I’ve checked my email five times, my Twitter page twice and my film group’s Facebook page once.
Based on other user averages, that’s still quite low, but I’m only a little bit proud.
Now, if it’s not too much trouble, could you please immediately share this article with everyone you’ve ever interfaced with on every social media platform and encourage them to make it go viral?
I’m only less-than-half kidding.
Now available on a multitude of streaming platforms.
(Dark Star Pictures)
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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