So, there’s a guy called Gary Turk who’s made what is being hailed as a “life changing” video. Look Up is about the dangers of being constantly attached to our devices and the evils of social media and is being widely shared, apparently without a shred of irony, all over Facebook and Twitter.
I have a number of problems with this video, not least that I find it sanctimonious and illustrative of a kind of moral panic about technology. 3o years ago people worried about the amount of time kids like me spent watching television, despite the existence of just four channels, while television is now often seen as less immersive, and therefore less dangerous, than video games or social media. In the 18th century novels first became a common form of text and were considered potentially ruinous to the young mind by concerned parents – the same kind of concerned parents who would these days weep with joy to see a young adult novel in their offspring’s hands. (There’s a fun history of moral panics about media and technology, going right back to 15th century worries about whether the printing press would spell the end of proper books, online here.)
Gary is very earnest. He wants us to put down our phones and tablets and interact, really interact, with people face to face. He’s worried that his online friends aren’t his real friends, that social media give us what he sees as a false connectedness which is actual a form of social isolation. Gary is concerned by the silence in commuter carriages, apparently unaware that prior to the iPad and the smartphone there was a form of technology used for discouraging conversation known as the “broadsheet newspaper”. It is offline activities – like exercising or painting a picture – which in Gary’s view are authentic, just like it is offline relationships which really matter. “Just one real connection is all it can take”, he tells us, to “live life the real way”.
The video obviously has wide appeal, yet to some with disabilities its denigration of online connections comes across as offensive. What if you are housebound, lonely, genuinely isolated? I’m going to take a guess that Gary probably has a job, and a family or perhaps housemates. He may find the online world a sad one, but I doubt he knows the true isolation of the person living alone who cannot get out and expects no visitors other than a weekly visit from a healthcare professional. In my view, running down our friendships as false shows a lack of understanding of what friendship really means. Instead of a moral panic about what social media takes away from us, how about a celebration of how much it has changed the lives of isolated people for the better?
And so I’ve recorded a rebuttal to Look Up. Look Down is my first attempt at video content and it’s not as swish as Gary’s because basically my setup was just me, my iPhone and a pile of books to try to stop my phone falling over. But, like Look Up, Look Down is in verse, and tries to encapsulate the benefits of social media for people with mental health conditions (it also gives you a flavour of what I’m like in person – I thought it was time to give that a go!).