Everybody has a phone, but it's more than a phone isn't it? It's your friend, your portable TV, your lifeline, your distraction, and yes your addiction. Michael Stusser, West Seattle writer has produced a 28 minute film Sleeping with Siri based on his experiment of gorging himself on digital technology to see the effects. The film, now accepted in several film festivals is a cautionary tale but even so Stusser admits he loves technology. It's everywhere. But there are ways around it, and balances he's found.
Michael Stusser's Sleeping with Siri is a cautionary tale; Documentary film about technology's effects
Film picks up first award as best short documentary in New Orleans film festival
UPDATE Mar. 29
The documentary "Sleeping with Siri" by Michael A. Stusser and Marty Riemer has won its first award. it was selected as the Winnner - Best Short Film / Best Short Documentary in the 2013 Big Easy International Film & Music Festival held in New Orleans this week.
Original Post Mar. 20
It's likely you won't read this whole story. Not because the subject is boring (it's not) and not because it doesn't concern you (it does). You will probably stop because (A) you've been interrupted by a text, a tweet, an email, a phone call or (B) that truck merging on your right. Even if you are reading it in print (less likely these days) you more than likely have a smart phone that is absolutely an extension of your consciousness that will buzz, ding, hum, chime, or flash with the next chunk of data you feel the need to pour into your head.
These portable digital powerhouses have become a completely addictive phenomena that has gone largely unexamined. True at least in part to the attention domination the devices themselves have created.
Michael Stusser, West Seattle based freelance writer and first person gonzo journalist wrote about this, the degree to which our attention spans have shrunk and tech has taken over in a story for the Seattle Weekly in November called Sleeping with Siri. The idea was to take two weeks, gorge himself on digital connections for the first then quit completely the second week and compare the experience. He texted, tweeted, facebooked, blogged, photo shared, and more almost non stop where ever he went for all his waking hours. Then, during the blackout week went to the library, wrote snail mail letters (yes they still deliver them for .46 cents...yes I googled that). That produced another koyaanisquatsi moment (enjoy that link).
He suffered health consequences, found himself "frazzled" and less able to concentrate, and came away with an altered perspective.
Now he and West Seattle's Marty Riemer have a 28 minute documentary done with the same name. It was shot during the same two week period in which Stusser gorged himself on personal technology (then went cold turkey) with a crew of five people. "Our budget was zero dollars and zero cents," said Stusser, but through Riemer's resourcefulness and the groups passion for the project they shot with high quality video gear. Stusser said that he and Riemer, despite his reputation as primarily a radio personality, handled all the editing.
The resulting film has been entered into more than a dozen film festivals and has been accepted into three so far.
The American Documentary Film Festival in April.
The Big Easy Film Festival on March 24.
The Palm Beach International Film Festival
The film has a soundtrack provided by "Northwest rock n rollers," selected from musicians who have appeared on The Marty Riemer Show weekly podcast. You can catch the show LIVE on Fridays at 9:30am.
They've chosen to give the film its initial exposure this way instead of simply sharing it for free.
"Marty and I are not really filmmakers but since we made the thing and are proud of how it looks we thought it would be better not to just post it on YouTube. We felt it had some value and at a film festival those audiences are paying attention and are more likely to see the whole thing and talk about it."
He made the film because he felt, "It had to have a life off the printed page. My story in print was the longest piece (8000 words) ever published by the Weekly that I don't think anybody read. It was too long for the audience because the whole point is you are looking at tweets and Facebook posts. My one vision for the whole thing was like Skyping in the car. What is it going to look like with me doing that?"
Doing just that, Stusser admits to having some close calls. He confesses that he still texts while driving. "I didn't kill anybody and I didn't run anybody over. I normally try to 'bring the funny' in my writing and we have this in the movie, but we lay down material on top of me texting in the car that says 'Eleven teens are killed every day texting while driving' so we know this is serious."
The rise of mobile devices has been incredibly swift and completely pervasive. One of best examples of this was a photographic comparison between the inauguration of Pope Benedict 8 years ago and that of Pope Francis this month. In the first instance a sea of people patiently waits and watches the proceeding. In the second nearly every person has a smartphone and is holding it up to record the event.
"Most of this digital media and networking is a massive waste of time," said Stusser, "If you're taking a picture the sunset in front of you and then tweeting it out to somebody else you are not only ruining the moment for yourself but the person getting the tweet is taking their eyes off the sunset you just sent them! I think it's funny but I think it's depressing."
He's inspired by the topic and plans on being part of a digital blackout experiment at Sealth High School in mid April. He will lead in with parts of the movie. "Some will resist it but those who have done it and gone through it realize what it looks like. It's absurd today. We're constantly tethered to work, to our parents and to everybody. I don't know that it's such a good thing."
I know in my own experience that my attention span has shrunk. I don't read long form stories anymore. I love the West Seattle Herald but mainly I look at your sunset photos on Facebook. I don't want to be that person but I'm playing Words with Friends, I've got nine articles that i'm half way paying attention to. To be totally honest, I "like" a lot of stories on Facebook I haven't even read. I'm afraid it's making all of us more easily distracted."
He points out that this trend is not a positive one across the board. "I don't want my surgeon to be like this, or my pilot, or my chef or my lover."
Stusser doesn't have a solution for everyone but for him he seeks balance through yoga and meditation, something he's done for 15 years. "It's one of the things where they're not letting you bring the damn thing in there. You have to turn it off. It quiets the mind and you have to think about breathing, something I'm not doing when I'm screwing around with Pinterest. It saved my life. It brings my stress level down. It makes me, when I leave class, have a little more patience.
If you don't have a break I don't know that you ever get to that contemplation."
I think that's what the digital blackout is going to do for kids. They will go kicking and screaming but afterwards they will realize there were some advantages to not having to text 240 times a day. I think you need a break and need to be ripped away from this thing in order to remember how nice it is to take a walk in the park."
Riemer offered his thoughts on the film. "I am still haunted by the work we did on that film. Every time I take out my cell phone now I realize what a slave I am to that device, and yet I don't/can't stop."
Stusser hopes there's a pendulum at work here with potential for people to realize the benefits of digitally detoxing, but he fears there isn't. He himself still does, "too much. I'm a member of Pinterest, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and I mess around with texting, Words with Friends, I also use an app called Life360 in which after someone joins with you, you can see their location 24 hours a day." He is very concerned that the unconsidered march of personal digital techology will have deeply negative effects. "Google Glass," a wearable computer that can record everything you see all the time is, "a nightmare from hell. Why don't they just tattoo our retinas?"
It's difficult for him because he loves technology, but after his deep immersion in it understands better than most that the downside has thus far been largely ignored. "I'm fearful that those who don't know balance are going to lose themselves."
In the world of mobile computing it's possible that Stusser's voice may be almost alone. Against the backdrop of a billion buzzing devices, that may be the most alarming thing of all.
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