Disconnect Me

Peter Malone MSC 23 October 2023

Alex experiments with disconnecting from his smartphone and social media for 30 days.

DISCONNECT ME, Australia, 2023. Directed by Alex Lykos. 98 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and coarse language)

This review begins with a solid recommendation. It is definitely a film that will do its audiences good. A documentary, it raises a great number of themes which challenge the audience. But, not only is it interesting, it is entertaining. And the writer-director, Lykos is personable, inviting the audience into his film and share his experiences.

The title is an alert. The disconnection is from one’s phone. Lykos is concerned about our reliance on our phones, their being in our hands and therefore part of an extension through our arms to the total body. The IT is practically physically part of us – in our hands and at our ears, with our eyes fixated on our screens, heads bent, bodies stooped. It is the way that we live hours of our lives every day.

Alex decides that he will conduct an experiment and go without his phone for 30 days. Audiences who are not dependent on their social media may be interested and amused to see what happens. Audiences who are dependent, co-dependent, might well be alarmed and fear what they are going to see and wonder if it will have any repercussions on their own lives.

Once again, it is worth saying that Lykos is personable, talking straight to camera, taking us into his confidence as individuals or as the group audience. He introduces us to his wife of 12 years, who will lock up his phone, pad and computer, and then has to play Monopoly with him during the evenings, but finding his behaviour hard during the 30 days. His father is continually ringing him, complaining about his useless job in making documentaries and not being available when he rings his phone. His father is Greek, so the conversations are in Greek (with some of his father’s exasperation not translated in the subtitles).

Alex explains to us what happens over the days. There is the sense of absence and separation, the need to know, not having his contacts instantly available (and the consequences of missing out on important calls), not checking the news, the weather . . . Even having to read the paper. (Interestingly, there is no mention of radio as a source of news and information.) So, we are engaged in Alex’s drama, its comic side effects, its exasperations, and all the time the invitation to make comparisons with our own lives.

There are numerous experts in the film. Alex has a physical check-up before the 30 days, a doctor questioning him about his sleep patterns, concentration, doing sleep tests, prescribing for sleep apnoea. And there is also the issue of the curvature or not of his spine. (Spoiler alert – the 30 days of not looking at a phone has some good physical repercussions.)

There are interviews with experts, especially about children and their use of phones, the limitations of physical development in terms of movement, play, interactions, a kind of stunting of development which, the more we think about it, and the more we look at the interviews even with five-year-olds who are telling us whether they use mummy’s or daddy’s phone and force them to give it to them, and then play computer games . . .

The interviews with the senior primary school students and the secondary students, and the statistics of time devoted to looking at their phones certainly can ring alarm bells. One cheerful boy says he spends 12 hours on his phone, an hour sleeping – and Alex points out that that leaves only four hours in the day for any kind of human interactions, meals, learning . . . And the youngsters explain why they have to be on their phones, to keep in contact, not to be left out, even if, as one girl who shows herself to be a singer of great range, is bullied and mocked.

In interviews with adults, Alex asks probing questions, with some of them admitting that they are phone-addicts, some worried about information about their children, others worrying about the effect on their parenting.

By the end of the film, there are even questions about how IT will affect our future, the role of the robots and robotics, implants in the brain to help us think better, IT making our judgments, positive but also destructive (a theme explored in The Creator released at the same time as this film).

This is a fine example of the power of a documentary, presenting themes that are interesting and immediately relevant, plenty of facts and data, interviews with experts, but all presented in an engaging and enjoyable way. (Alex sometimes asking the audience to put up their hands if they are guilty of some of the hard situations he raises.)

Released 19 October


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