Screened Out Review

Screened Out Review

“By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourself. It’s just a thought… I’m just trying to plant seeds… maybe one day they’ll take root, I don’t know. There’s no rationalisation for what you do, you are Satan’s little helpers. Kill yourself, seriously, you are the ruiners of all things good.”

Bill Hicks

Harsh, I know. But let's be honest for a moment — despite needing to separate that venomous tongue from his sharp observation — Hicks had a point. He would have had a field day with what has happened and developed since his passing and one can only imagine how he would have vocalised the truth.

Jon Hyatt's debut documentary Screened Out is not a Bill Hicks routine, far from it in fact. Here, he takes on far more responsibility and self-deprecation as a filmmaker, unplugging himself and asking some home truths. The director quickly finds himself more relaxed and reading fiction again. He hopes to remind all of us - himself included - of the importance of the now, asking us to be aware of where our attention should be focussed and who deserves it the most. We are all guilty of mindlessly logging in — swiping left and right, browsing useless information, sometimes while our own children seek our attention. The result? Surrogate parenting through devices.

This 'digital fix' is an addiction and the majority of us are all junkies thinking too much about the future. Back in the past, Hyatt was once the kid who played outside. He tells us this from the outset but now he and his wife are, like the majority of us, hooked to their devices as their children cry for attention. He manages to cover all bases and rattles off stats while interviewing a mix of individuals who simply remind him (and the viewer) that all of this screen time is making us worse people and, more disturbingly, worse parents.

Of course, we know all of this but with Hyatt's affable narration we are more than happy to listen - similar in tone to Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock in approach - and, despite the subject matter, he never preaches. This is the blunt truth as he and his interviewees highlight the comparisons to drug addiction. We may not see this as substance abuse but as the documentary goes onto remind us, it is absolutely behavioural.

During one moment author, and Associate Professor of Marketing and Psychology at NYU, Adam Alter states that this behaviour, "is so well designed, an experience that is so well engineered that you can effectively become addicted to that experience in the absence of any drug. And that’s really where screens come in because most of those... the vast majority of those experiences that are addictive, happen on screens."

These are the moments that Bill Hicks would have wallowed in as Hyatt begins to paint a very accurate picture of what we have become. As he starts to reveal the shocking aspects of gambling addiction and how it is inherently built into the engineering and marketing, this is where the documentary begins to hit you over the head with its sledgehammer. We are shown clearly that it’s not the device but what’s on it; a slot machine mentality of seeking the awards in the shape of a thumbs up. Apps designed to 'monetise our attention' with less bandwith and more attention-span-width. All of which is fast becoming a very narrow margin as we are caught in an endless loop manipulated by social media products built on the anticipation of reward.

It's a well-known fact that even the ‘tech folks’ fully understand that to be creative you need to experience life and live. The 'smart' kids of Silicon Valley just see the masses as a bunch of Muppets locked in endless loops of Fortnite conversation. Hyatt goes onto discuss iGen (the first generation born after 1995) who have spent their entire adolescence with smart phones. They may have a strong work ethic and remain practical and safe but they are too safe with no independent experiences. The shocking details that he reveals about this generation would be enough to make you smash your phone right here, right now.

We are introduced to an internet and gaming treatment centre where a digital detox fitness program is delivered. Psychologists theorise with gems like: "Nobody presents themselves online just the person you want people to believe in". While museum curators collect the carcasses of old computers, seemingly caught in some alternate 1980s wet dream of chipboards and keyboards in an effort to understand the redeeming qualities of the tech. The Ex-President of Facebook, Sean Parker, breaks his silence and admits that we've been manipulated all along; becoming 'behaviourally addicted' to their products as we come to grips with a disturbing new vernacular of ‘habit forming’, ‘brain hacking’, ‘Internal triggers’, ‘negative emotional states’ and the paradigm laid bare: Trigger / Action / Reward / Investment.

The screen is indeed the great pacifier. Yes, it's obvious but everyone needs reminding of the importance of living, right? Sometimes the truth hurts. Screened Out is a responsible and responsive piece of work that shows the impact on our well-being and that it should absolutely be monitored, so that our 'bottomless feeds' don't lead to 'a bottomless life'.

Screened Out is released digitally on May 26th.


Hyatt's film aims for the Super Size Me of Smart Docs and although it may be telling us that water is wet, sometimes we all need a black mirror held up in front of us.


out of 10

Screened Out (2020)
Dir: Jon Hyatt | Cast: Alicia Dupuis, Hilarie Cash, Jean Twenge, Jon Hyatt | Writers: Jon Hyatt, Karina Rotenstein

Latest Articles