Today, at 5pm, a group of year 11 students from Brentwood Secondary College are shutting down all their screen-based electronic devices… until Friday evening. This is all part of local exploration of the issues raised in the film Play Again, screening at the festival next week (twice for the general public – Wednesday evening, and Friday at midday for mums and bubs, or anyone else around at 12 on a Friday).
The film follows six American teenagers, as they are dragged out from behind their computers and smart phones (or their “virtual world”, as one participant describes it) and into the Big Wide World. The real one, that is. With bugs, and no magic powers, the sun, wind and rain to feel against your skin, and singing, and streams to swim in, and trees to climb.
For those of us who remember a time when we weren’t connected 24/7 (and you don’t necessarily have to be that old… that is what I am telling myself, anyway), it doesn’t really seem that remarkable, but for a generation who for all of their socially-independent lives have had the aid of phones, texting, emails as primary tools of communication, it may well come as a big shock. That is what we assume.
This is why we have asked the Brentwood students to spend a week of their holidays making the supreme techno-sacrifice. For some ground-truthing… some very unscientific hypothesis-testing. Will they implode? Will they have an epiphany as new worlds open up? Or will they just suffer a bit of initial withdrawal and then carry on as usual? Follow their experiences through the Sunday Age, who this morning ran a story about the students’ sacrifice. Or come and listen as they report back during the panel discussion following the film.
The film raises a number of really interesting issues, relating to the developmental and health consequences of so much screen time. There is little doubt that the generations growing up in Australia now have less connection to nature than any previous generation.
The extent to which this is due to screen time is debatable, but it is undoubtedly a factor, along with increased urbanization, changing societal standards relating to what are acceptable levels of freedom for kids (think about the efforts gone to around the city to ensure children can’t climb trees), and less unstructured play time. Increasingly, studies are showing the benefits of exposure to nature (even just taking time to sit on a grassy lawn) for mental health, particularly depression and anxiety, plus for children exploring nature can build confidence and self-reliance, as well as stimulating curiosity.
Most importantly, the film draws our attention to the simple fact “what they do not value, they will not protect; what they do not protect, they will lose.”
And by “they”, I mean “we”. And by “lose”, I mean permanently. Sobering thought, as I sit at my computer, typing. With my smart phone beside me. And the sun outside shining.