Being born in the mid-seventies, I grew up with a pretty severe lack of exposure to computers for the majority of my schooling. Sure we had a computer lab where we would learn how to use a computer, but that was rarely more frequent then once a week and the majority of that time was spent playing Oregon Trail. My family didn’t even have a PC until I was in High School, and even then most of my teachers preferred papers to be typed rather then printed on computers. Even when I went off to school at a Big Ten university in the mid-nineties, computers still were not a huge component of the work I did. Though it was in college that I finally began to use the Internet. First on Gopher and later through the World Wide Web. Back in those days 28.8k modems was scorching fast, and texting wasn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar.
Today college is a vastly different environment. Most students own their own laptops, attend classes online and have never lived in a world where computers and the Internet weren’t simply a seamless extension of their lives. So when director Melody Gilbert came up with the idea of filming a documentary about three students (Mitchell Lundin, Andrew Tate and Caitlin Magnusson) at Carleton college who choose to not use any computers for three weeks, I was immediately intrigued. Just how would they pull this off, and just how miserable will they become trying to accomplish such a task?
To disclose a bit about myself I love schaedenfreude, and Disconnected immediately wet my appetite at the thought of three helpless college students trying to survive without Facebook, Twitter, email or cellphones. Sure enough, Disconnected quickly tapped into this with scene after scene of these individuals trying to figure out how to perform such mundane tasks as registering for classes, typing a paper, or even trying to contact friends and teachers without using text messages and emails. The typewriter sequence alone is utterly fascinating and hilarious, as Mitchell and Caitlin attempt to use a truly foreign and archaic machine. As their eyes glass over and the frustration mounts, you can practically hear Richard Staruss’ Also sprach Zarathustra playing in the background.
But that is merely one of many moments in the film where Mitchell, Andrew and Caitlin struggle to perform even ordinary tasks without the use of a computer. Mitchell clearly struggles the most, as he routinely uses his girlfriend as a proxy to send and read emails for him, while Andrew at one point is forced to do classwork on a computer simply so he doesn’t fall too far behind the rest of his classmates. And all three face outside pressures from professors, friends and their families as their lack of access to computers inconveniences everyone they interact with.
But while the frustration continues to grow over time, they soon begin to realize just how much time they waste on their computers as well. Caitlin marvels at how much work she accomplishes and how better she prepares without the distractions of the Internet, while Andrew begins spending more time outside and seeing things he never would see holed up inside on his computer. And when the experiment ends, all seem to not only have learned from this experiment, but have set goals to limit their exposure to computers. Unlike most people, they have come to realize that there is a healthy balance that can be reached when one simply becomes self-aware of how much time is wasted online and one takes a few steps to remedy that. That revelation is the true genius of Disconnected, and one that everyone could aspire too.
Hi. My name is Matt and I am a computer addict.
Disconnected is the recipient of the 2008 Flyway Film Festival Special Jury Award and will be screening on Sunday, October 12th at 5pm as part of the Wisconsin/Minnesota Showcase at the Flyway Film Festival. For ticket information and a complete film schedule, visit the Flyway Film Festival website for complete details.