Rooster Teeth documentary ‘Connected’ dares us to put down our devices

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There’s been an infinite number of thinkpieces on this world of seemingly unlimited technology. Nothing has been left unsaid, leaving little territory in terms of content. But perhaps the discussion can change if it comes from a new sphere. We, the “Millennials,” deny the accusation that we’re more disconnected because we think we know better than those who grew up without these devices. But what if that message came from our generation, from our platforms and circles? Would that change our reception toward it?

“Connected,” a documentary from online entertainment and production company Rooster Teeth, sparks this discussion within the Internet community. What started out as a “dumb” dare on their weekly podcast to get rid of electronics for a week turns into a full-fledged production. Rooster Teeth employees Blaine Gibson and Barbara Dunkelman are forced to undergo a “technology cleanse” as their technology is reset to 1989 — about the year they were both born.

Though it may have been simpler to take away their devices and leave it at that, the production spiced things up by giving Gibson and Dunkelman tasks to complete over a five day period. Both had to continue work for their jobs, which includes directing shows and marketing content, and conquer altered social aspects, such as Gibson’s loss of Tinder, with only what was acceptable in the ‘80s.

Where “Connected” hits home is in its lighthearted premise. Rather than turning into an empty, mechanical experiment, the film feels like a dare on a larger scale, retaining a lot of the simple fun and charm that comes along with dares. The fact that it doesn’t become hollow also allows its premise to stay relevant and relatable. We’re not seeing Gibson and Dunkelman in artificial environments — rather, we’re seeing them how we would likely act if dared to do the same — panicking when we first lose our “babies,” feeling lonely at home when we can’t text our friends and having awkward interactions when we can’t use our phones as crutches.

The film succeeds largely because we so easily identify with Gibson and Dunkelman. It’s as much of a testament to the filmmaking as it is to their personalities that we feel so connected to them. We cringe in solidarity as Gibson awkwardly fumbles when tasked to get a date with a girl without using Tinder, and we wince in pain as Dunkelman navigates a dinner party where everyone is glued to their respective screens.

But this is not all to say that “Connected” doesn’t have a sophisticated flare to it. The documentary utilizes interviews with Nicholas Carr, author of the New York Times best-seller “The Shallows,” and behavioral psychologists Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke to analyze the images on the screen and to formally offer a dissection of how our brains are changing with and without technology. Through this aspect, the production doesn’t just succumb to meaningless entertainment, becoming both resonant and existential.

The juxtaposition of the dare-originated premise and the integration of interviews, along with the upbeat pace and assured direction of the film, gives “Connected” an unexpected impact.  At the beginning of the documentary, Rooster Teeth co-founder Gus Sorola predicts, “I think it’s going to be a huge relief for them when they finally get access to technology again.”

But as their last day rolls around, Gibson and Dunkelman reflect on lessons they learned about social etiquette — mainly, not to use a phone when interacting with friends. Upon receiving their phones back, instead of experiencing joy at the massive amounts of texts, Snapchats and emails they received, the two feel a tinge of sadness.

Gibson laments, “Picking this up was like picking up a brick of stress.” He feels this to such a degree that he deletes his beloved Tinder — after the experiment, he realizes how empty-hearted the app is.

As the screen goes black at the end of the documentary, we question our instinctual behavior and hesitate as we reach for our phones. Although we know we probably won’t ever take a dare like this ourselves, perhaps “Connected” will convince us to delete our Tinders or put our phones away during dinners and be more engaged.

“Connected” can be viewed on the Rooster Teeth website with a paid membership.

Contact Kyle Kizu at[email protected].