Everyone that’s watched a movie at the cinema will know its not right to have your phone out, buzzing or distracting others, well almost everyone, as occasionally you do get those people who have no awareness or courtesy to those around them, but nevertheless, we all know not to go on our phones at the movies.
The cinema itself tells us not to, with warnings right before the film to turn your phone off or put it on silent. This is not the case in Greek Australian independent filmmaker Alex Lykos’ new film Disconnect Me.
“At the beginning of the film, we say ‘don’t do that’; ‘pull out your phone’; ‘keep it handy’ because we are going to ask you to use your phone throughout the film,” the director/actor tells Neos Kosmos.
He says that he knows people may find documentaries boring, so they tried to make the film fun for the audience.
After all, the film is about the phone, so he going to ask the audience to use it and even give them time to check notifications.
“We try and make the experience interactive. We know you’re going to have your phone buzzing away throughout the movie. We’re not going to try and fight that. We understand that and we want to try and have fun with it instead.”
While the audience will be on their phones, the man on screen, Lykos himself, will not be.
Disconnect Me, which strays from his usual romantic comedies (Alex & Eve, Me & My Left Brain) centres around him going on a mobile phone detox for 30 days.
Locking away the smartphone in a safe and attempting to live closely to how society once did, without the dependence on a mobile phone and social media.
Impact of Social Media
Like so many others, Lykos found himself stuck in the endless cycle of social media feeds. He describes it as “mind numbing” and one day he just had enough.”After spending so much time on social media I kind of needed a circuit breaker,” Lykos said.
“That led to me looking to learn more about the impacts of social media on our mental health and wellbeing.
For the film, he researched some experts in the field and brought them on board to chat.
“It slowly evolved from that core idea of me wanting to just try help myself and my relationship with technology, in particular social media.”
Social media can be a dangerous place, especially for the youth. Cyberbullying and even the emergence of social media influencers can have a serious and detrimental impact on young people. Many kids and teens idolise internet celebrities and often want to emulate what they see, like appearance for example.
The young especially teens may develop a negative body image of themselves because it isn’t what their favourite influencer looks like.
There is good and bad to that, with some being positive role models.
Lykos says they look at these factors in the film and has interviewed teenagers who expressed their inner thoughts and feelings.
“We interview some teenagers who really kind of expressed some of their inner thoughts and feelings in relation to navigating their way through their teenage years in a world where social media plays such a significant role in their lives,” he said.
Always a new toy to play with
Humanity has consistently been impacted by devices and technology that consume our time and shift the way we work, and communicate and often previous generations frown upon these developments. Before mobile phones, it was computers, before that, it was television and before TV, radio and much before, the printing press and books.
Information overload; described as an occurrence where the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity.
The modern world seems overwhelmed with information and data, especially from a device we carry in our pocket, but once upon a time, the printing press was seen the same way, by the highly educated and those holding religious posts in society.You can go even further back to Ancient Greece, with Socrates himself warning against the use of writing.
“It will implant forgetfulness in their souls. They will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks,” said Socrates according to his student Plato in his dialogue Phaedrus.
Socrates’ sentiment echoes what everyone thinks of phones today, especially in relation to their impact on the young, but even the methods of information consumption society hold dear, was always considered harmful by some.
Maybe one day there will be something else that comes along that we’ll rally against… maybe it’s AI (more on that later) but the phone is different.
The phone combines all forms of media and tasks we once considered a distraction, writing, books, TV and even gaming… all of it on one device.
Phones themselves can be distraction from not just work and life, but the other distractions too.
Lykos points to the shorter attention span of people today, that social media on the phone provides that shot of entertainment we need.
“I guess we’ve all got slightly shorter attention spans because we can scroll through a TikTok video or an Instagram post, and if we don’t like the first four seconds, we keep scrolling,” he said.
“We get grabs of things and that’s enough for us and we get our hit of entertainment, and we move on.”
He says for some, sitting down and committing to a two-hour movie is a lot harder now.
A scary revelation of “fantastic” technology
The theme of Disconnect Me isn’t that technology is bad, for Lykos says after the experiment, he’s come to learn that it is “fantastic”.
“There are some tremendous tools that we can use via the phone and social media as long as we’re using and to serve our lives, to aid our lives, to enhance our lives, not to control our lives.”
Once these tools begin controlling our lives, that is where the director thinks it becomes an issue.
“What I am seeing is that people have varying relationships with their smartphone. Some have got a bittersweet relationship, some love it, and the thought of not being tied to their phone is just simply something they can’t consider.
He says it’s all about balance, but that it differs from person to person.
However, while filming during early to mid-2022, this was prior to the surge in the discussion of AI. And since then, social media platforms like Snapchat have introduced an AI companion for users to chat to.
AI could very well be the next technology that infatuates society, it seems to be happening already.
Lykos says they examined the potential harms of AI and that we have no idea what is going on.
“What’s going on with the world’s superpowers in relation to the development of AI?”
“Essentially, it’s an arms race to see who the best AI can have when it comes to war. And that was a shock to us.”
He says it’s scary, especially in relation to lethal autonomous weapons.
Disconnect Me had its premier in Western Australia last week at the CinefestOz Film Festival, and Sydney and Melbourne will get their peak at the film very soon.
Sunday September 17 at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney, and a general release at Cinema Nova in Melbourne on Thursday October 19.