Turn On Your Computer, Turn On Your Brain

Turn On Your Computer, Turn On Your Brain was devised as the first wave of social networking hysteria swept through Croatia. Coinciding with mobile communications operators significantly lowering prices of data packages, it was not a surprise that the generation of digital natives quickly jumped on the social networking train. By that time (2013), Facebook andTwitter were already old news, and as the teenagers described it, ‘used only by old people’, but Snapchat, Instagram and somewhat older Tumblr, as well as WhatsApp (a messenger app that was, and still is, confused by many for a social network) were experiencing their high point and not looking likely to move from the spotlight. That led to many dubious practices being silently and conveniently overlooked and a lot of bullies suddenly found a new channel for expression, using a medium that was not only accessible but had a wider reach than ever.

That was the climate in which we started developing Turn On Your Computer, Turn On Your Brain. It was not a peer violence TIE programme per se, because the storyline followed characters quite a bit older than the age group it was aimed at, although we maintain that cyber bullying is a problem that spans ages, social groups, etc. Nevertheless, it was devised in order to deal with problems developing from teenagers using technology that most of their parents weren’t versed in, thus making it difficult to recognise and discuss the serious issues arising from such use.

The storyline follows three young women who share a very close friendship — or so it seems. Two of them are actually old friends, and one of them meets the third girl in a dance class.They start hanging out together; the two childhood friends both fascinated by the third girl who, judging by appearances at least, is the picture of perfection. Her own self-image issues, however, almost immediately start manifesting themselves as inability to see others in a positive way, making her judgmental and petty. Thinly-veiled insults to both her new friends quickly escalate to brutal gossip in social media inboxes, and are eventually leaked to the general public.

As the TIE programme was aimed at 15—17-year-olds, we decided to make it participatory in a way where we didn’t assign the audience a role, but asked them to comment and share experiences as themselves. Focusing specifically on girls, who according to available surveys at that time, were leaders in cyberbullying, we also toyed with the idea of making the performance not only participatory but at the same time inviting the audience to communicate online after (or even during) seeing it. Before the performance, they were specifically told that not only were they allowed to use their phones during the performance, but they were encouraged to do so. Not a lot of them did though — gripped by the performance, they chose to ‘experience it directly’, to quote a 16-year-old audience member when asked if she forgot about her phone. To this day, we see it as a point in the theatre versus real life competition, real life being the one online.

The idea of online collaboration with the audience during and around the programme was also the reason why an elaborate Internet presence was created for the characters — they all haddifferent social media accounts and the actresses were asked to maintain that presence during the run of the programme. Part of the performance was happening in real time on social media, while other parts were realistically faked as if in real time.

The audiences’ responses were varied. As this was one of the firstTIE programmes where we intentionally went open-ended, and tried to steer away from leading the audience in a certain direction, we wanted to finish the performance with an honest discussion, leading us out of the story and into the real world. Some of the tasks for the audience during the programme were, however, designed to keep the plot evolving and the audience was asked for answers that were meant to progress the storyline. But the actresses/facilitators were instructed to follow the direction the audience took, and to try not to manipulate it in any way.

Although most of the time we were successful in creating space for a serious discussion, where we found out that a lot of them didn’t consider cyberbullying as dangerous as bullying in real life, because it lacked the component of physical violence, we were also, as often, frustrated by the lack of means to continue the conversation after the event itself. Even though this programme offered the possibility for the audience to keep communicating afterwards, not a lot of them took that opportunity, and we were once again left with the knowledge that our reach is very limited to the happening itself.The impact ofTIE programmes can fulfil their full potential only if the educational system follows up by continuing the conversation on difficult issues. We are often reminded that for some of the participants, just raising awareness might have been a very important experience, and feel lucky that we were able to help out with that, but we always keep wondering what more could have been done if only...

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