Are You Paying Attention?

Advertising and social media often imply that we are each the center of the universe. In her most recent documentary, award-winning Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei reminds us that going outdoors is the simplest way to gain perspective on what tiny pieces of the universal puzzle we really are.

In Play Again (Ground Productions), Hessen Schei pulls six teenagers away from their gaming consoles and smart phones to document a weeklong wilderness adventure. Many of the skeptical teens spend five to 15 hours in front of a screen each day and have never spent extended time in nature before. One girl, Paige, has a hard time leaving her computer because, she says, "MySpace is like my other family." But freed from online gaming and Internet-based relationships, some of the youth delight in their newfound freedom outdoors. They learn to build fires, construct bows and arrows, and make up campfire songs. A few enjoy their connectivity reprieve so much that upon returning to their everyday lives, they engage in voluntary media fasts, spending more than a week away from TV, video games, and the Internet. Aleks compares nature to a first-person shooter video game, noting without irony, "When you're outside, it’s so much more realistic."

The teens in Play Again are more than a cautionary tale about losing touch with the natural world. Their stories also represent a growing interest in combating media overload. While many of us regularly battle communication and information avalanches -- flooded inboxes, compulsory social media status updates, an unceasing 24-hour news cycle -- fewer may consider how so much knowledge and connectivity at our literal fingertips is affecting our relationships and shaping our world.

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