Patrick Robinson
Michael A. Stusser and Marty Riemer, West Seattle filmmakers, are now part of a program called Tech Timeout/Academic Challenge, sponsored by Foresters Insurance which provides the tools and guidance to high schools across North America to take a 3-Day challenge by shutting down their digital devices. The goal is to make students (and others) aware of their dependence on technology.

How do you follow an award winning documentary? West Seattle's Stusser and Riemer launch Tech Timeout campaign

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After Marty Riemer and Michael A. Stusser brought out their documentary, Sleeping with Siri, a lighthearted film that addresses the serious implications of digital devices in our lives there was an obvious question. What's next?

Their answer is an exponential expansion of the idea of a digital detox. Teaming up with Canadian life insurance company Foresters Insurance the two men are now part of Tech Timeout Academic Challenge a 3 day challenge in which students shut down their digital devices to gain awareness of how dependent they are on technology.

Stusser and Riemer launched the program Tuesday, Jan. 14 at Issaquah High School where 600 students signed up to take part. More than 100 got it started by spending the night at the school in a supervised "sleep over" without any digital devices. They played badminton, and board games, had an ice cream social, and stayed up all night talking. About 3 a.m. a round of more than 30 interviews with media outlets began as the duo introduced the program in a live satellite feed from the school.

1000 schools across North America will be provided, free of charge, with the Tech Timeout Academic Challenge Kit. It includes the Tech Timeout Academic Challenge video (Assembled from footage shot of the students at Shoreline High School previously), a copy of Sleeping with Siri, a classroom discussion and activity guide, an organizers guide, a family packet, and more materials developed by Riemer's company Twisted Scholar Inc. that cover other research based programs for schools.

For the filmmakers the next step is to follow up with yet another documentary, to be shot at a number of schools who sign up for the challenge. "The window is fairly tight," said Riemer," we need to do this all before June when school lets out." That means they will travel to 3 to 4 schools to film their implementation of the challenge and produce another documentary that explores how students, teachers and parents react to the experience.

One of the more interesting aspects of leaving behind digital devices Riemer added was that, "Parents found that they missed the instant access to their children that a smartphone provides."

Just as they discovered in their first film the constant presence of always on internet access has affected people in ways they themselves don't understand. "Every great idea, or invention in history came from moments of quiet, intense reflection and that's what we're denying ourselves and our kids by always having Candy Crush going on our phones. It's an awesome app by the way."

For their part, Foresters as an insurance company wanted to team up with the West Seattle pair because they saw them championing the same cause. "Family Well Being" is both a catch phrase and a core value for the members based company. Teresa Pavlin and Brenda Piekos of Foresters said that the company launched the www.TechTimeout.com website to get students and parents to put down their devices for one hour per day, seven days a week, ideally at the dinner table to spend quality time together.

"It's been a great response," said Pavlin, "we now have 32,000 fans on our Facebook page." "We launched Feb. 5 last year," said Piekos, "and we launched it with a public service video that has been viewed more than half a million times. We've had more than 67,000 visits to our page and more than 13,000 pledges downloaded."

They've found, just as Stusser and Riemer said, that the reaction is mixed. "Some people really find it a challenge," Piekos explained, "some people find it impossible and some people really love the idea."

"We did an influencer campaign with 'Mommy Bloggers'," said Pavlin, "they influence the family and make a lot of decisions for everybody. In that context the response has been really great. The love the idea and feel it's something they should be doing."

The idea for teenagers today of having a conversation or not making plans through texting is completely foreign. "They average 11 hours of screen time daily and text 3700 times," said Stusser. "As a result they've lost the ability to plan longer range events since via texting everything is so fluid," said Riemer.

The new film, not yet titled will likely be shot and assembled in the next six months and could see a release in the fall. In keeping with their humorous theme it won't be a dry exploration of the evils of technology. After all they both embrace it wholeheartedly. They just think a little balance is called for.

One possible name?

Bored Again.

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