Lessons from the Movie “Disconnect”

Not sure why but “Disconnect” flew by my radar when it was first released. I briefly remember hearing chatter about it shortly after its release but given the film’s dark subject matter – negative effects of digital media, it wasn’t a blockbuster. Oddly, I viewed the film isolated from my digital networks during an international flight from Seoul to San Francisco.
The digital divide is often discussed primarily as an issue related to education but “Disconnect” takes the idea a step further and positions the issue as a basic necessity in today’s world. Characters without a strong grasp of digital media find themselves confronted with tragedy in the film while those who understand it easily manipulate others.
“Disconnect” connects the lives of four families through a series of interconnected events. In this group narrative the film examines a number of issues related to digital literacy including cyber bullying, online sex trafficking, and identity theft to name a few of the big ones. Each story unfolds innocently but winds up leading the characters to the doorstep of personal tragedy while taunting the audience with a hint of “it could have been avoided.” Hollywood style tragedies are absent from the film. Instead, “Disconnect” reaches for a few real life horrors such as attempted suicide, financial ruin, and modern day “slavery.”
The film is held together by the promise of relationships in the digital age. Once stitched together primarily by dotted line relationships, e.g. parent-child, partners, and neighbors, “Disconnect” brings to light the power of digital media, the ability to create new relationships outside of established networks. While harmless on the surface or when conducted in full transparency, misuse can lead to tragedy as shown in the film.
Traditional relationships also exhibited a noticeable amount of strain in “Disconnect” due to the creation of “digital networks.” Characters exhibit an inability to maintain common ties with family, friends, and significant others. Reasons for the strain manifested in the form of smartphone addiction, 24-hour work cycles, and digital realities. One strain which struck a strong chord with me was a fleeting memory. Shortly after one of the character’s brother goes to the hospital for attempted suicide she has her grief interrupted by a friend’s text conversation. The scene plays out as follows
“He was just hanging there, cold and blue… I tried to yank him down but it was too late. He was already unconscious.” Main Character
“I’m sorry to hear about your brother. Do you think he’ll be okay?” Supporting Character
Supporting Character’s phone buzzes
“OMG, Bobby invited me to his party! Can you believe it!?” Supporting Character
There is an uncomfortable pause in the room.
The main character in the scene breaks the pause by violently throwing her lunch on the supporting character and then storming off.
Overall the movie is solid and should be on the required watch list for people working with digital media and used as a teaching device to illuminate the dangers of our new reality. Now over a decade into the age of interactive media, government policies and social etiquette have fallen behind technology. In its wake can be found ruined lives and trampled connections; digital media is no longer “child’s play.” It has serious implications which can disrupt the real world. Explore the web with caution and skepticism, everything isn’t what it seems.