Smartphones aren’t making us dumb; social networks aren’t making us antisocial. Technology is a tool, and it’s time we all stopped blaming it for our problems and took responsibility for our terrible digital habits.
Decrying the evils of social media is the topic du jour…on social media. Perhaps nothing better encapsulates this trend better than “Look Up“, a YouTube video that went viral earlier this year.
Gary Turk, who made the video, clearly put a lot of work into the project – and was rewarded. The video bounced around Facebook faster than a cat riding a Roomba, and is verging on 45 million views as of this writing.
The rhyme scheme’s annoying, and at times somewhat cloying – but the visuals are great, with a message we can relate.
A message we can relate to. A message to which we can relate?
Whatever. I’m bad at rhymes.
Do Smartphones Prevent Love? (No.)
Anyway, if you can’t get over the rhythmless rhyme scheme long enough to watch this video, let me give you a summary. The first half points out that smartphones are distracting us from the entirety of life. You’ll see people looking at phones instead of each other, complaints about how no one talks to each other on trains anymore, and a few playgrounds that are empty – presumably because those pesky kids just love their friggin’ video games.
The second half gets around to telling a story. A man doesn’t have a smart phone, and as such has to ask a woman for directions.
Obviously they fall in love immediately, and a montage of the two of them paying attention to each other and actually living life commences. Marriage, kids, old age – all because he asked for directions.
The video concludes with a repeat of the scene where the loving couple first met – but this time, the man has a smartphone in hand. Instead of asking for directions, he looks up where to go. Tragedy! He walks right past the girl he should have married, unaware his life is ruined.
See: technology is bad!
An Alternate Story
I should be a sucker for this message. I’ve made my dislike of smartphone zombies clear in the past, and I myself do not own a smartphone.
But this doesn’t resonate with me, at all – possibly because my marriage wouldn’t have ever happened without the Internet. My wife and I met in person, but lived apart for an entire year shortly after meeting. I fell in love staring at a screen, reading her emails every night and responding with my own.
If this video was about me, it would feature the college me deciding not to spend time in the computer lab after class, instead being attentive to the people around me in “the real world”. Then cheating on my girlfriend.
I then never get married, and die. Alone. Attentive to my surroundings, but alone.
See: technology is good!
It’s Up To You
Of course that’s stupid. My story doesn’t prove technology is connecting us any more than the story in “Look Up” shows it’s driving us apart. Any object – a car, a smartphone, a television – can be used in a way that connects you with other people or a way that isolates you. It’s entirely up to you.
My problem with this video isn’t that I don’t think there’s a problem: there is. We’re an increasingly distracted society. But “Look Up” blames the technology too much, and the people using that technology too little.
You have agency. If you feel isolated because you spend too much time on Facebook, stop using it to read about other people’s lives and start using it to plan get-togethers with your friends. If you find video games take up so much of your time that you never socialize, make a promise to yourself to only play games with other people.
You’re not being controlled by your gadgets – you’re controlling them. At least, you should be – and if you’re not, you have only yourself to blame.
TV Brings Us Together!
I’ve got another minor complaint. Bear with me.
Right in the middle of the montage of the couple actively paying attention to each other, we see this:
What is this couple doing? Watching a movie together – presumably, on a television.
That’s right, television. The soul-sucking diversion of yesteryear. Think about it: if this video was made in the 1960s, it would be about how TV is distracting us from the real moments in our lives. In 2014, apparently, TV is such a natural part of human existence that watching it with a loved one is a visual symbol of togetherness (provided you also smear your loved one’s face with ice cream). At least you’re not staring at your smartphone.
This brings to mind a famous quote from Douglas Adams:
Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
I realize the TV scene was a quick shot in a montage that included lots of other together time, but its inclusion is revealing. Technologies predicted to redeem or destroy the world usually do neither, and the current cultural obsession with social media is a modern incarnation of that trend.
TV Isn’t Inherently Antisocial – And Neither Is Your Phone.
It’s possible to watch TV in such a way that you feel more, not less, connected to the people you’re with – it’s why going to see a movie is a popular date. Shared experiences give you something to talk about with the people you love. It’s also possible, of course, to use TV as a replacement for social interaction – to use it as a distraction. But that doesn’t mean that TV is bad.
The same is true of smartphones, social media and the Internet. It’s up to you whether you use them to connect with other people, or to isolate yourself.
The idea that time spent on your smartphone is inversely related to time that could be spent falling in love is wrong. It’s all about what you’re using your devices to do. If you use them as an alternative to living life, that’s a problem. But the device itself isn’t to blame for that: you are.
Take control of how you use your devices. Use social networks, and your phone, actively instead of just passively consuming whatever comes your way. Be intentional about using social media in a meaningful way, and it will enhance your life; use it passively, and it might not. Take control of your information diet and your time spent online will be productive; passively consume crap and it won’t. It’s all about intention.
But hey: I could be wrong. Let’s talk. Is technology a tool we can use, or is there something about social networks and smart phones that inherently distracts? Have I missed the point of this video? Is the rhyme scheme better than I’m giving it credit for? Comments, below, etc.
Image Credits: ClearFrost Via Flickr