Celling Your Soul: No App for Life

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Celling Your Soul: No App for Life Movie Poster Image
Earnest docu about communicating in the digital age.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 48 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Technology that's meant to make our lives easier and keep us more connected than ever has actually become a barrier that prevents us from making much-needed real connections with other people. Instant access to information and getting lots of hits or likes make us feel intrigued and enthralled, but not really fulfilled. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

College students interviewed about "digital cleanse" talk openly, honestly about their use of digital communication, what they like, don't like, how it makes them feel, what they learned about themselves and their relationships after cleanse was over. They're all Caucasian, able to attend college, so not much variety of world views represented. Director Joni Siani, college professor who created digital cleanse, appears as a communications expert and models genuine desire to help young people get to know themselves better, be able to benefit from communicating, interacting in person.

Violence
Sex

One student tells how a sexually suggestive picture of himself, which he sent to his girlfriend, got sent to many other people, including minors, and that now he's remembered as the guy who got expelled for a sex offense. Statistics about how many teens send and receive sexually suggestive images. Opening sequence is cartoon sperm swimming toward an egg.

Language

"Bulls--t," "crap," "screw that," and one segment called "Generation Screwed." "F--k" and "s--t" are bleeped out a few times.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Celling Your Soul: No App for Life is a documentary about the millennial generation's love-hate relationship with technology, and the unintended consequences of neglecting personal interaction in favor of social media updates. It raises a lot of important issues that parents, educators, and teens should discuss, from how interacting has changed, why personal interaction is important, and how addicted to technology we are. It discusses the benefits of putting technology aside and what kinds of information we really need such easy access to. One student tells how he came to be expelled from high school for sending a sexually suggestive picture of himself, and brief statistics mention how many teens send and receive sexually suggestive material. Strong language is rare but includes "bulls--t" and "crap." A few times, stronger words like "f--k" and "s--t" are bleeped out.

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What's the story?

In CELLING YOUR SOUL: NO APP FOR LIFE college professor and director of this documentary Joni Siani follows a group of her students as they undertake the "digital cleanse." It's one of her biggest assignments, and it asks students to put away their cell phones and stop using all forms of digital communication for a week. We follow the students through in-depth interviews and video journals as they assess their relationships with digital communication. Siani explains the importance of in-person interaction, and examines the consequences of losing the ability to do so for the first generation, now coming of age, to grow up entirely in the digital era.

Is it any good?

This earnest, well-meaning documentary aims to open viewers' eyes to how much they rely on digital communication, and the skills and genuine emotions they're in danger of losing because of it. The group of older teens Celling Your Soul follows as they try the "digital cleanse" are relatable and articulate; following their stories raises a lot of issues important to teens coming of age in the smartphone era. Professor Siani, who also directed the film, is engaging as she argues the benefits of learning how to interact and communicate in person.

It does beg a few questions, though. Like whether there are other things that have us checking our phones dozens of times a day besides social media updates and text messages. Or any proposed solutions to teaching communication skills to kids who've used texting their whole lives. Or whether digital life is different for nonwhite people, or people without financial security. But it does provide a lot of important food for thought that teens, families, classmates, and friends should digest and talk about.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Celling Your Soul portrays teen and young-adult use of technology. Does it paint an accurate picture? Is your own use of digital communication different?

  • What are some of the drawbacks to relying so much on digital communication? Why is it a big deal? What are the benefits of communicating in person?

  • Do you think you could do a "digital cleanse?" If not, why not? Do you think you start with something smaller, like Common Sense Media's Device-Free Dinner initiative?

  • Did watching this movie change how you view your relationship with technology? If so, how? If not, why not?

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