Screened Out review: are we spending too much time on screens?

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A documentary about the amount of time we spend on screens, here’s our review of Screened Out to read on, er, your screen.

Screened Out is a documentary by filmmaker Jon Hyatt that seeks to better understand the consequences of our society’s infatuation with technology. It’s by no means a novel idea, and the documentary opens slowly by regurgitating theories and admissions that you’ve most likely heard before. As the film’s focus sharpens, though, social media platforms and video gaming in particular come under fire, and Screened Out begins to find a rhythm, making some singular and emotive connections to deepen what is, in 2020, already a well-travelled narrative.

As the film unfolds, one interview in particular stood out to me. Hyatt visits an antique home-computer museum in Canada and there, surrounded by clunky monitors and outdated relics of technologies past, he listens as the proprietor opines wistfully about an era where our relationship with machines was far less streamlined; that computers had to be cajoled, negotiated and experimented with in order to work. It’s a deftly done moment, delicately highlighting just how ever-refined algorithms are seamlessly smoothing our integration with technology and evaporating the safeguards that protect us from this seemingly unstoppable process. It’s an interesting moment and indicates that the documentary is willing to move in different directions to find its own space.

Elsewhere, the film tends to be a little more direct with its message, and tries to juggle two documentarian approaches simultaneously: both the personal filmmaker’s odyssey and the classic talking heads approach. Happily, it’s a style that generally meshes well, although whilst Hyatt’s personal journey to divest himself and his family of the evils of technology feels a little undercooked compared to the array of experts who line up to offer wisdom on the effects that an online world are having on our offline selves.

As screen addiction and FOMO are the moral panic of this generation, you may have been exposed to much of the science and theory seen in the film already, but nonetheless Screened Out presents it in an interesting way, and does especially well to find enough that is new to raise an eyebrow or two in concern or astonishment. From an interview with a Silicon Valley school that reveals that their students (the privileged offspring of the world’s fiercest technological advocates) aren’t allowed to access screens until very late in their school life, through to some interesting theories about the power of the idle mind, there’s more than enough here that is new and thought-provoking to add something of significance to this ongoing debate

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