The latest and most nauseating is a video called "Look Up" by Gary Turk.
- We spend too much time on our phones - in fact that's the only thing we do
- We are lonely, not just with our technology, but because of it
- Mobile technology makes us soulless robots, destroys creativity and stifles interaction
- We are slaves to technology, replacing "real life" with time on social networks
Of course it's easy for Turk to have a simple message: Phones are bad, Facebook is bad, "the outside" is good. Simple messages travel fast on the internet, especially when you give them nice music.
It's harder to have a realistic message: that social technology has good and bad aspects, it's part of our changing society, it's not evil but does require discussion.
"Look Up" also plugs directly into feelings, bypassing any logical thoughts. For example, the end of the video describes falling in love and leading a long happy life with someone you happen to ask for directions - but how "none of these things ever happened ... when you're too busy looking down, you don't see the chances you miss".
|"Look Up" on Youtube.|
Maybe he's just texting someone he's meeting?
Seriously Gary, start with OKCupid and we'll build up to Fetlife social events from there.
I Forgot My Phone - oh, and all my friends are dicks
The predictable message is that people on their phones are not really living life, because they're always occupied by their phone, instead of interacting with people around them, which is what they should be doing.
Flaws with "I Forgot My Phone" are easy to list: Do friends who go bowling all sit there on their phone? Is it always wrong to look at your phone when hanging out with friends? Should you never check your phone when in bed with a loved one, or out running, like, ever, in your entire life?
No, no, and no. The video is an exaggeration, and doesn't stand up when you get specific. (Heavens, don't take it so seriously! Just seriously enough to click "share". On your mobile device. Which is bad.)
But listing particular flaws is a distraction, because these videos are part of a wider trend - the same as image memes which say "When I was a child we played in the street and made treehouses!! Share if you agree!!!!"
The connecting theme is that everything was simply better in the past, before the technology of today.
Sandi Thom, misguided nostalgia, and telling people what's right and wrong
Sandi Thom used this vague, idiotic nostalgia in the song "I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker" (click at own risk) back in 2005 when Myspace ruled the social internet. Thom says she was "born too late", yet mixes up punks and hippies and 1977 and 1969, showing a clear misunderstanding of the time(s?) she wishes she lived in.
Ironically, Sandi Thom clearly wasn't born too late to find success by webcasting her acoustic performances from her basement, which were announced and publicised over Myspace.
|This is acceptable because it is simple...|
When exactly did phones cross the line? Flip phones? The classic Nokia brick? Presumably rotary phones aren't soulless, because we only see them in films about the past, and the past was a better place.
|...but this woman is clearly a soulless robot.|
Who will save her from her phone?
Who will save any of us??!
(Seriously Woody, you did not need an entire film to give us that one punchline.)
I emphasise "should be", because these videos are not just middle-class hand-wringing: "OMG all this technology, what about our souls??" They are actively telling you what you should and shouldn't be doing.
Don't take it literally! Except the literal instructions
Already a lot of the comments appearing on "Look Up" (currently 2.5 million views, 7 days after upload Edit: I originally wrote 1.8million when I started writing this post, then thought I'd got it wrong - actually just 2hrs after posting it's up to 3million - clearly it's being shared pretty fast) say "don't take it literally". Apparently it's not a literal message, it's just a guide! To encourage us to spend less time messing up our eyes staring at screens, and waste less time on Facebook and Whatsapp.
But the truth is these videos and images really are instructional - particularly "Look Up", which actually, literally, does give people specific instructions. Who knows, maybe it's like the #CancelColbert Twitter campaign, where internet activist Suey Park didn't actually want to cancel the Colbert Report. Maybe you can't actually believe what people say. It is the internet, after all.
Still though, it's hard to see ambiguity in the lines "So look up from your phone, shut down those displays, we have a finite existence, a set number of days". The meaning is clear: that life is too short to "waste" on your phone. Too short!!
Again Turk is clearly ignoring the problematic facts of the real world, like the way technology and social networking save time by performing tasks that used to take us much longer - including communicating with friends and organising social events. Even ones in that magical "outside" place!
Who decides what's "real", or what's important? Oprah? The UN?
Videos like "Look Up" and "I Forgot My Phone" claim that there is some kind of problem, yet they fail to provide any meaningful advice on how we might solve this problem. They just moo, like cattle, that phones are somehow "bad" in a vague, undefined way, and that using phones puts you in some kind of soulless black hole, separate from "real life".
Well, I have 2 very unsurprising discoveries:
- People are just as creative and social, if not more, thanks to today's technology and social media
- Phones and social networks are also part of "real life"
|"What's this guy looking at? The world?"|
Tweet by @cap0w Funny as a joke -
not a serious comment on society's decline
- Firstly, 1) looking at your phone while waiting for a train is not a crime, and 2) there was no magic time before mobile phones where people would all talk cheerfully with strangers on trains, on platforms, everywhere, all the time.
- Secondly, while it's clearly meant as a joke - an amusing comment on today's human behaviour - it hits the same nerve as "Look Up" and "I Forgot My Phone": that doing anything on your phone is inferior to talking with whatever strangers you happen to standing next to.
Maybe I'm on Whatsapp with a friend in another country.
Maybe I'm sending dirty messages to a girl from last night.
Maybe I'm writing lyrics, or reading a socio-political article on the BBC.
Or maybe I'm just looking at funny photos of cats.
Is any of that less "real" than talking about the fucking weather with a random stranger? Who decides?
Please tell me, anyone, I'd love to know.
The world is a better and more interesting place now that we are connected with others who aren't immediately in talking distance. I think that's obvious, and it's dumb that I even have to say that to any of you.
Misty Watercoloured Laziness
What saddens me about "Look Up" is that Gary Turk is clearly a talented poet/wordsmith who has chosen an important topic to express a passionate opinion on. I should be applauding his passion and skill and the production of this video.
But I can't do that, because "Look Up" is a massively misguided example of the rose-tinted anti-phone bandwagon: that there's a problem, and it's Facebook's fault, it's your phone's fault, it's technology's fault, it's anyone's fault but not your fault. This thinking isn't just ignorant. It's lazy.
The worst part of "Look Up" though is without doubt the final line: "Live life the real way". Bullshit. Pure and simple.
Don't tell people their life isn't "real" just because they use a phone more than some random arbitrary amount you decided (yet conveniently didn't mention in your cutesy video).
So dear reader, try these "instructions" on living life the "real" way instead:
- Take responsibility of your own actions and your own possessions. You choose, every day, how much time you spend on your phone and how you use it.
- Find the right balance and purpose for technology in your life. Spending too much time on your phone or computer isn't healthy, but they are useful machines that can help your life, and you define how much is "too much". (And eye doctors. Maybe those guys too.)
- Choose the right devices and apps that you feel comfortable with, which provide the right functions that you need.
- Get regular and frequent exercise if you're not doing it already, although you probably hear this from lots of other places anyway.
- Interact with whoever you like, whichever way you like. Whether it's messaging a relative overseas or chatting with a friend over coffee, or - shock horror - both at the same time (because you don't always talk to someone all the time that you are with them), it's your choice and they are just as "real" as each other.
There's a lot more I want to cover on this topic, around society/technology and our current place in humanity's development as a species, from apes to spacepeople.
But this post has been long enough, and I've spent long enough on the computer writing this. And I decide how long is too long for me - not Gary Turk, and certainly not some video I saw shared on the internet.
I should reference Andy Boxall's Digital Trends article on "I Forgot My Phone" from August 2013, which covers many issues in a more concise, articulate way than this blog post.
In particular, the use of "creepy, frightening images of people staring, dead-eyed, at nothing at all" is applicable to "Look Up", in the way it's a clever tool to emotionally manipulate the viewer - while bearing no resemblance to way real people actually act with their phones.
--> Additional 2In the same way TV hasn’t stopped us from seeing the world, chatting with friends, or going bowling, smartphones won’t either. They’re still a relatively new invention, and our obsession will inevitably fade. Humans have been around for a lot longer than phones and TVs, but our need to communicate with each other has only grown. Yes, we probably all need to moderate our use when we’re with friends or in places like the cinema. But please, let’s not demonize this amazing tool and the new world it opens up, just because some people would rather the attention it receives was lavished on them.
I'm just going to quote my friend on Facebook directly, since they summed up points (like Andy Boxall above) which I kind of hinted at but couldn't articulately describe:
That line "no longer imprisoned by your geography" resonates with me. I grew up in a large-ish town close to London - hardly some isolated rural village - and yet I remember the first time I went on a chat room on a Suede fan website. I spoke to someone in Lisbon, and someone else in the United Arab Emirates, and other people too. It was amazing.I didn't watch the whole thing, but I've heard the same argument since BBSs and chat rooms came around. Hell you can probably say the same thing about writing letters. I would say that the current technology allows for greater interaction and connection. You are easily able to find subgroups that fit you better and are no longer imprisoned by your geography.If you feel alone with your group of friends don't blame the technology. It's an enabler and you can have as much connection as you want. You can use it to hide, or to connect, it's up to you.
The fact we can now do this - and a whole lot more - on our phone, and not just a huge boxy desktop computer at home, is a good thing. I don't want to be some blind cheerleader for technology or spending every hour of every day on our phones. But like I said at the start, technology is a complicated and moving part of our society, and it requires discussion instead of equally-blind rejection.
Thanks for reading