What are you missing when you’re looking at screens?

Play Again, a documentary shown as part of DC’s Environmental Film Festival, tackled this question, portraying the changing balance between the virtual and natural worlds facing today’s children (and let’s admit it, adults).

Play Again poster at the DC Environmental Film Festival

According to the film, one generation from now most people in the U.S. will have spent more time staring at screens in the virtual world than outside. Technology has changed our lives in ways many of us don’t even stop to think about anymore. Can you believe the first cell phones went on the market only 15 years ago? New media technologies are improving our lives and empowering us, but they are also creating an actual addiction from spending too much time doing it.

For today’s generation of kids, screens are the de facto medium through which to experience the world. Play Again tells the interwoven story of a group of media-connected (i.e. “Hyper-overdrive” or… “normal”) teens who are unplugged and brought on their first wilderness adventure. Real nature footage is juxtaposed with high tech images and animation from the virtual world to play with the reality of how kids are experiencing nature on screen and in person.

Virtual vs. Reality

Before they embark on their journey the teens, who spend anywhere from a self-proclaimed 6-15 hrs a day in front of screens, are challenged to a “screen-fast.”  In MTV Real World-style confessionals, each admits to withdrawal-like symptoms, some not lasting more than a single day. One admits he knows his media addiction is “destroying me from the inside.”

What’s impressive about the film is its ability to be simultaneously innocent and playful in the teens’ candid testimonies and exploration, while also clearly exposing a hard-hitting reality. As we watch them dip toes into rivers for the first time, sing around campfires, and play team battle games that stray far from how they are used to interacting and strategizing through video games, it’s evident how extremely different childhood has become. One young boy admits with heart-breaking surprise, “When you’re outside, it’s so much more realistic.”

According to National Wildlife Federation’s Whole Child report, when kids spend time playing outdoors they form an innate connection to nature that can make them happier, healthier, and even more attentive in school. The Internet may give us endless factoids, but there is a sense of wonder only found in nature and problem-solving skills that come solely from direct exploration. If children no longer have the time and space to experience the world outdoors, how are we altering the course of human development?

As Play Again’s Director Tonje Hessen Schei, says, “Reconnecting them to nature will take all of us working together. Turning off the screen and getting outside is a small first step towards finding a path.”

Find out where you can catch this eye-opening film screening near you.