SBS has launched the world-first interactive documentary Are You Addicted to Technology?, which invites audiences to go on a journey of enlightenment and to think about how concerned we should be about our relationship with technology. It does this by offering a personalised investigation into the user’s own tech dependency through an interactive questionnaire built into the documentary.
Mediaweek spoke to SBS online documentaries commissioning editor, Dr. Kylie Boltin, about how the documentary was made and what she hopes will come of it.
Coming up with the idea
Boltin says that coming up with the idea of an interactive documentary was an extension of the work already done at SBS.
“We’ve been doing interactive content at SBS for a while – web content, AR, VR, all this kind of stuff, so we’re interested in this innovation space. With On Demand you have this digitally native platform that can be played with, you can merge technology and content right from the get-go, so we just pitched it in and we were fortunate that the business supported it.
“It’s like a proof of concept or a new format, you don’t know how it’s going to work and it does take up a lot of resources, but we wanted to give it a go and see if we could create some very, very cool content that also spoke to the national interest.
“I think it’s great, I really like it. I’m really happy with the results.”
Deciding on the topic
Technology addiction isn’t a topic that has been widely studied before due to how new the research is, but Boltin said that this wasn’t a problem for Are You Addicted to Technology?
“We knew that addiction was an important issue in Australia, but digital addiction is very, very new research. It’s really interesting how this research is only coming into being because of the emergence of the smartphone, it’s not been that long in comparative terms, and there’s a lot of unknowns about it.
“There’s a huge irony of course, using digital to talk about digital addiction, but at the same time this documentary doesn’t say ‘get off your phone’ entirely, it doesn’t say that we’ve got to cut ourselves off from technology entirely. All it’s saying is let’s explore the ways that we use tech, let’s explore what tech groups do to get us engaged with tech, and let’s be smart about it and informed.”
Despite being an issue that people may not have thought about, it’s a very real one that has a very real impact.
“It’s an issue that’s affecting a lot of people. Smart phone use is only on the rise, and it’s affecting the way kids learn, it’s affecting the way we interact with each other, all of these things. As a topic in the national interest I think it was really relevant for us to explore.”
Choosing a host
The documentary is hosted by child psychiatrist Dr Kim Le. Boltin says that his own experiences in life made him a perfect fit as Are You Addicted to Technology? host.
“He’s really interesting because he has a specialty in kids and technology, so he has a medical practice around all this.
“He’s a perfect example of this dichotomy that we all experience with tech. He had a gaming dependency, he had a real over-use of tech, he had to go through those stages of detox. At the same time, he’s got this huge subject matter expertise, so he was a really great host.”
How it works
The interactive component of the documentary will kick in for viewers straight away, with Boltin saying that people will be asked to engage with the documentary from the very beginning.
“When you open it up on your iOS device, it opens up through the On Demand app, you immediately go into the first chapter. The film is divided into multiple short chapters, you see an introductory chapter, and it asks you if you’re going to be enlightened or if you’re going to dig your head into the sand. It asks you the question straight away, and it’s already asking you to engage with this project – this project actually doesn’t work if you don’t engage.
“When you make your choice of which way you want to go, you start to see content divided into chapters about the history of tech, or different ways that tech is using cortisol, it looks at the ways classes and education is taught in Australia. But throughout the project there are moments where you as the user are asked questions by Dr. Kim about your own tech use.”
Boltin says that the answers viewers give will be compared to answers from a survey that SBS commissioned as part of the project. Dr. Sharon Horwood, senior lecturer at Deakin University’s School of Psychology was in charge of the survey of over 1,800 Australian adults – the largest national survey of its kind.
“You’re asked a series of questions that form a survey, that survey is then aggregated in real time through the app and you are given a status on how you rate against the nation. So throughout the project you will have personalised feedback from Dr. Kim to your results, and at the end you’ll have a final result.”
Ultimately, Boltin hopes that viewers enjoy the documentary and that they learn some things along the way.
“It’s really about placing the user at the centre of the experience and knowing that we are all part of this together. Especially after the pandemic, we’ve all increased our internet and tech usage exponentially.
“So let’s be aware of this, let’s make some conscious decisions, and maybe make some choices that will make our lives a little bit better.”
Are You Addicted to Technology? Streaming April 21st on SBS On Demand