As October marks Bullying Awareness Month, we’ve been hearing about dozens of initiatives that strive to end bullying — particularly cyberbullying — as it constantly affects Millennials. But one of the efforts that stood out to us the most is MTV’s new movie “DISconnected,” which is part of its A Thin Line Campaign to show teens the consequences that their online actions can have on their offline lives. The film, which airs on the network tonight at 9pm Eastern Time, is inspired by real events and addresses the many facets of digital bullying, abuse, and other online issues. Through its approachable language and familiar MTV style of editing, the movie shows viewers how today’s teens are reliant on technology and highlights how digital drama can drastically hurt them…
“DISconnected” is a bullying movie, but it’s as much a movie about the effects of technology when teens become too disconnected from their actual lives and instead consumed by online communication. To illustrate this, the movie weaves together the story of four kids — who only have interactions via a live streaming site — each dealing with different, but extremely relevant, digital problems.
MTV examines the issues of trust and over-sharing through Lisa, a high school girl who meets a guy online and quickly falls for him, IMing him, looking at his profile, and texting him at all times. When she isn’t communicating with him through technology and ignoring the people around her, she’s talking about him non-stop, despite knowing little about him and having never met him. However, their virtual relationship goes too far and trouble ensues.
Tom, better known as Guitar Boy, is a shy loner who finds comfort in music and uploads videos (without view of his face or reference to his identity) to share his songs with the online world. Webcasts are an outlet for him to express himself and find people who understand him. However, he becomes too dependent on the separation of the web from the actual social world around him. His story doesn’t involve cyberbullying, but it demonstrates challenges with technology and the problem of presenting a different version of yourself online.
Maria is glued to her cell phone, like most teens and young adults. However, her story depicts a consequence of technology rarely highlighted when discussing digital drama: She sends her boyfriend millions of texts a minute to the point of harassment, yet she can’t comprehend why he won’t reply. Texting to this extent makes her insecure, whereas she is otherwise outgoing and confident. Her story also shows how technology plays into teens’ dating lives and how kids can torment each other online, posting pictures to mess with one another’s emotions.
And lastly, there’s Isaiah, whose story is based on Abraham Biggs, a 19-year-old who battled bipolar disorder and webcast his suicide after being egged on by viewers. Isaiah appears to be popular and happy in his web videos and among his group of friends, but on the inside he is suffering from severe mental health issues. He ultimately turns to his webcast to discuss the idea of suicide, and instead of getting support, his peers further encourage him to kill himself — cyberbullying in its cruelest form.
The movie presents realistic issues for Millennials; all four characters view the online world as a place where they can be the people they want to be. For Lisa that means having a boyfriend, for Tom it’s finding friends and expressing himself through music, for Maria it means being confident and secure, and for Isaiah, it’s being constantly happy. Yet this medium impacts them negatively as well; all of them are either cyberbullied or bully others in some way.
The film succeeds in that it presents different aspects of digital drama — not just cyberbullying, but emotional relationship abuse via technology and becoming too dependent on the Internet. However, technology affects Millennials positively too and we admire MTV for adequately showing both sides. Moreover, the film is presented in a Millennial-specific manner, one that presumably has less meaning to adults. The characters’ language, actions, and attitude are well-reflected, and the film was shot with webcams and iPhones, as well as a still HD camera, to be more authentic. For that reason, the film can be challenging to watch for those not used the this sort of video and quick cuts. The film also may fall short for some because live streaming sites are one of the least popular types of social networks among Millennials, and the film presents an extreme view of the problems surrounding digital drama. Yet it still depicts consequences of technology that Millennials need to be aware of.
As Steve Friedman, President of MTV, said prior to the screening “you don’t always realize the impact you’re having because the screen creates a disconnection.” However, if today’s teens aren’t plugged in they often feel left out…and disconnected.
MTV strives to show teens and young adults one of the most relevant issues to their generation — how to navigate the digital world versus the real one. The film reminds us that adolescence is a difficult time, and while technology is essential to Millennials, it can also make their lives a lot harder.