The Digital Nation is a FRONTLINE documentary produced and narrated by Rachel Dretzin. Rachel teams up with Douglas Rushkoff who is one of the leading thinkers on technology and the effects of multimedia in our world. Rachel starts out the documentary with a realization that although her family is all together in their home, everyone is in his and her own virtual world. For example, two of Rachel's children are at the dinner table, but they are involved in an iPhone game. Her husband is at the table as well, but he is engrossed in his laptop computer. Her older son is sitting directly across from his Dad, but he is also on his laptop. In the documentary, Rachel accompanies Douglas Rushkoff to MIT in Massachusetts and to an institute in California. Cognitive testing is then performed on a group of hand selected students who seem to have an aptitude for constant high levels of multi-tasking. The results are negative. The students who were considered to have high abilities to multi-task using multimedia actually score low when they are tested on their abilities to retain information. They are also slower to process and complete tasks when moving back and forth among the as many as six items needing their attention. The documentary shows that in the digital age, people's divided attentions and inability to focus is a major concern and that we miss out on of our greatest assets which is our ability to concentrate on one task for long periods of time.
Douglas Rushkoff travels to South Korea to show how the nation that greatly improved their economy by integrating digital media into their school system about ten years is now suffering because of the overuse of digital media. Now they are implementing free rescue camps for the young youth suffering from digital media addictions. Douglas shows tours of the ever popular large gaming lounges in Seoul Korea called "PC bangs". Young South Koreans play video games in these PC bangs for hours. Deaths have been reported as a result of people not leaving for days because they were so immersed in the games that they died as a result of not eating and drinking water.
A study of youth in New York suggests that the young students in middle school tend to spend an average of 50 hours per week on digital media. A neuroscientist named Gary Small conducts MRI scan testing on people’s brains to see the difference in the brain activity that occurs when reading a book from brain activity that occurs when searching information through Google online. The results show that the brain is much more active when reading and searching through Google online from that of engaging in the reading of a paper book. Promoters of the Internet jumped on Gary's research findings and used it to advertise the benefits of a brain that is in more use and suggest that this is a good thing. Gary himself is more than reluctant to say that his findings support a positive advertisement for the use of Google and the internet. He suggests that it is better to use less area of the brain and build its muscle in one area like that of weight training. He compares use of the brain to weightlifting training and he suggests that for any muscle to get stronger it is utilized in isolation and then rested for growth to occur. If anything online media use is dumbing its users not making them smarter. He said that just like anything new that is advertised in a positive light, but is actually bad for us, it takes a long time before we recognise it. For example, the ads from the 1960's advertising that more doctors prefer Camel cigarettes over leading other brands. Gary asks how long did it take before people realized that cigarettes are bad for us.
In other parts of the US, schools are embracing the digital media that is available. They are implementing it to schools that are failing to keep up their student’s attendance. The principle of an inner city New York school, Jason Levy, imagined that all the students would have their own laptops. He did it and now all the negative gang behaviour and drop out number has reversed. There is less gang activity, student numbers are up, and the math and literacy levels have improved considerably. Other high school are shown where they are reporting that there is too much difficulty in engaging the students in reading actual book as a result of the digital media phenomena. Instead of reading the books, students will now refer to online resources such as Sparks Notes. The students would rather spend time communicating through chats or play games that spend the time to read a novel. Yet there are recourses available that they can get the all the important notes from. In all of five minutes, students can know enough to write a decent essay on the novel.
Douglas Rushkoff shows how he was interviewed on morning news shows in 1995. He was enlightening people on the digital revolution that we were about to embark on at that time. Douglas notes that he was very excited at that time thinking that it would be this new world that would be better. He coined it this world as "Cyberia" in his book.
The Army is using the digital gaming world as a recruiting base by locating military shooting games in gaming lounges in the malls in the US. They are advertising through soft selling to people as young as 13 years old. There are clips of the military using real games to kill real people. The US military is also utilizing virtual reality therapy with solders who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder after serving in the Iraq war. Although it is a virtual game, the solder is shown experiencing an intense response as though it is real and he is re-living his tour of duty through the game.
There are games that people are so involved in where they create an avatar of themselves and play the games so often that they consider the other avatars their closest friends. There is a World of War Craft convention where people who play in this virtual reality come face to face with players that they spend so much time with in the virtual game. It is stated that 30% of women who play this game find their partner and marry as a result of meeting through this online game. In the documentary we are introduced to the creator of the virtual reality game Second Life. He states that we are evolving from critical thinkers to doers and builders.
Douglas takes a tour of an IBM building with many offices. Almost all of the offices are empty because the IBM employees conduct meeting from their homes now instead of traveling in to work. In the documentary, an IBM employee is visited while she meets with her coworkers. None of the employees have ever met each other in person, rather they live in different countries and they meet though a game site similar to Second Life. Their avatars meet in a virtual boardroom to discus business.
There is a grandson and his Babbe who is in her seventies and is alive with life as a result of the cooking show and blog her grandson has created for her. She cooks and he films her and posts it on the internet. She has a large following and she states that she has never been so busy before in her life than now. She is shown responding to fans and she is very happy about this opportunity that the digital media offers her.
At the end of the documentary, Douglas reflects on all the detrimental effects of that are caused because of the digital media age. There are many negatives that are expressed from many different scientific studies conducted. is stated that the unfortunate reality of this digital media is that the person who is constantly bombarded by so many digital media distractions ends up with a much shorter attention span and information retention rate, as well as they suffer from disconnection with others people. Being so involved with the digital media also uses a large percentage of a person’s time and their energy. Where these could be spent doing useful things rather than being wasted on a virtual reality.
Douglas speaks back to when he launched his book” Cyberia” in 1995. At that time, he had thought that this digital reality would make the world a better and more connected world. In his reflection he now suggests that he feels different now having lived though many years and seeing the actual results that it has had on our lives and culture and he states that the best part of this digital media is getting to turn it off. With that comment he turns off his computer monitor and the documentary is over.