SCREENED OUT – Review by Carol Cling

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The current pandemic-related shutdown has given all of us too much time to think.

Some of us may be pondering how digital technology has enabled us to stay in virtual touch with family, friends and colleagues.

But we’re probably not thinking about what online existence is doing to our brains.

That’s the focus of the cautionary documentary Screened Out.

In sounding the alarm, the documentary presents numerous talking heads and ominous statistics.

But director Jon Hyatt (who also produces, edits and co-writes) enlivens his potentially dry subject with a lively visual approach, employing everything from video-game animation to mock Twitter feeds.

Even more notably, Hyatt brings his outrage down to earth by cannily blending general information and undeniably personal reflections, many featuring his own family.

The persuasive combination begins as soon as Screened Out does, with Hyatt’s voice-over narration asking a pertinent question: are you addicted to your smartphone?

If so, don’t feel (too) bad. It’s not your fault; the manipulative masterminds behind all those apps design them to “brain hack and make these devices purposely compulsive.”

Hyatt initially introduces himself through vintage home movies showing his childhood self “building lasting memories with real people.” Unlike now, when “I can have most of my interactions conveniently in my pocket.”

The average adult’s online use adds up to seven years of life spent online, most of it on a mobile device.

That’s bad enough for those who supposedly know what they’re doing — but what about kids who don’t?

“We wouldn’t let 5-year-olds gamble, we wouldn’t let 5-year-olds do cocaine,” but “we’ve exposed this whole generation to highly compulsive, habit-forming, addictive experiences,” one psychotherapist points out. “God — and some neuroscientists — know what this is doing to childrens’ brains. And it’s not good.”

As we discover during a heart-wrenching visit with a 13-year-old who contemplated suicide after contrasting her life with those she saw on Instagram. Despite the pain and insecurity, she realizes, “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get away from my phone.”

Perhaps not. But as Screened Out suggests, there’s a way to balance virtual — and real — life.

So, now that you’ve finished reading this review — online — take a cue from the movie and take a break. Make a phone call. Take a socially distanced walk. Or break out the original laptop equipment and read a book.

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Carol Cling

Carol Cling served as the Las Vegas Review-Journal's film critic for more than 30 years, reviewing movies and covering movie and TV production in Las Vegas, from Casino to CSI. An honors graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, she also has studied film at the American Film Institute and the BBC