Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier

Movie review by
Liz Perle, Common Sense Media
Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier Movie Poster Image
Powerful look at the impact of technology on our children.
  • NR
  • 2010
  • 60 minutes

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Positive Messages

The perils and the possibilities of digital life are examined. Overall, the message is positive -- that our kids' connected lives and enhanced-technology culture can offer amazing opportunities. Concerns about distraction, multitasking, and emotional distance are raised.


Footage of drone planes bombing real targets and snippets of violent video games used for military recruitment.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier is really more for them than their kids. The 90-minute Frontline documentary continues the exploration of what it means for kids to be growing up in a digital world that began with producer Rachel Dretzin’s stunning Growing Up Online. Dretzin and commentator Douglas Rushkoff, a leading thinker and writer on the digital revolution, explore the impact of technology on this generation of kids whose lives are constantly connected. The program is accompanied by a thought-provoking website (where the complete program is available). Some violent footage and discussion of war and military tools appear in the segment "Waging War."

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What's the story?

In Frontline's DIGITAL NATION: LIFE ON THE VIRTUAL FRONTIER, award-winning producer Rachel Dretzin continues her examination of the impact of technology and digital life on kids that she began in her superb 2008 report, Growing Up Online. Social commentator and expert on the digital revolution Douglas Rushkoff joins Dretzin as they examine everything from virtual worlds, video gaming, and multitasking to how the military uses video games for recruitment. They examine the perils and the possibilities inherent in the digital world, showcasing everything from schools that have used innovative digital technologies to lower dropout rates to how companies like IBM are using virtual worlds like Second Life. Like the 90-minute program, the accompanying website is organized into five sections: Living Faster, Relationships, Waging War, Virtual Worlds, and Learning.

Is it any good?

Dretzin deftly presents the personal and the political, as well as the technological and the human sides of the digital revolution. Excellent use of expert interviews combines to create a very balanced presentation of the advantages and costs of growing up in a digital, connected world. The most commanding part of the documentary is its examination of the role of technology in war -- both in killing and in recruitment.

Dretzin balances the consideration of the subject by showing how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be mitigated through digital recreation of trauma. But the interviews with the "pilots" of the bomb-dropping drones are downright bone-chilling.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the impact of multitasking. Do your kids think they're successful at it?

  • What do your kids think about being connected 24/7? Do they know how to protect their privacy?

  • The documentary shows how the military uses video games for recruitment. What do your kids think about that?

Movie details

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