look up

WHY NOT TO LOOK AT ‘LOOK UP’

Apparently the video below contains a revolutionary message about how much time we spend looking at screens – about how social media isn’t actually social at all. Wow. What an amazing, original, ground-breaking message. I can’t believe nobody has ever thought of this before! Oh, wait. They have. For some reason, however, this seems to be the first time the internet has taken notice, because ‘Look Up’ by Gary Turk has gone totally viral.

Turk has chosen to convey his amazing, original, ground-breaking message with this amazing, original, ground-breaking new thing called “spoken word poetry”. Oh, wait. That’s been around for a while too, and other examples are infinitely better. So why is everybody going crazy over ‘Look Up’? Don’t we already know that we spend too much time looking at screens? Do we really have so little self-awareness that it takes an amateur poet/film-maker to make us think about how much we use Facebook?

Turk, who is dressed suspiciously like a wartime evacuee, tells us that social media prevents real-life connections; never mind that online dating services allow thousands of people to find love, and platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr are launching real-life careers. Turk’s video, which is ironically all over social media, would never have found its audience without the sharing power of social media. The truth is, it won’t actually stop people using their phones, laptops, or tablets. At best, it might make people think for a minute or two before they return to ogling their Facebook feeds, feeling slightly better for a brief deep-and-meaningful contemplation of a super-important issue. According to one website, ‘this is one of the most vital messages that everyone needs to hear’. It is!? Drop everything you’re doing, guys, and let’s think about how often we use our iPads. It seems to me that we live in a society so privileged that we decide the amount of time we spend using technology is a pressing issue. Starving North Koreans have it easy, right?

I don’t know which parks Turk has been visiting when he says kids don’t play outside anymore. Maybe it was cold that day; maybe it was raining; maybe he’s unemployed and hangs out on parks all day without his phone while kids are at school learning how to become robots. Who knows? But the next time you come across a super-dooper-inspiring video that you want to share on your news feed, think about the fact that you don’t really care, and that nobody else does either. Your 422 friends (remember, the ones that you talk to every day but who don’t really know you?) aren’t impressed by your feeble attempt to appear moved and contemplative.

It’s hard to believe that the many respected news sources who have shared the video actually believe in its value. Its success might be understandable if its tired message had been conveyed through a video with high production values, genuine creativity, and sleek aesthetics. We have none of that here; Turk’s poetry is lack-lustre, his actors are cardboard, and his story is as cliche as they come. What the video’s viral success tells us is not that we need to turn away from our screens, but develop a more discerning palate for video and poetry.