Look Down: My Response to the Look Up Video

There’s a conversation that I keep hearing. I’ve heard it in small gatherings and from pulpits. Yesterday I heard this conversation in the form of a video that multiple friends shared on Facebook.

Mostly I've stood on the sidelines of this conversation. I've listened without sharing an opinion. I can't do  that anymore. I'm tired of this conversation and it makes me frustrated.

The conversation is about technology. And it often centers around social media.

The video that so many of my friends were sharing (ironically on social media) is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

Here's the video.

The essence of the video is that we should stop being so distracted by our phones and our devises and "look up". That we need to have more personal interactions. That these technologies actually serve to isolate us instead of connecting us.

The video is well done. Well written. Well executed. But, I was incredibly frustrated with the logic in this video and how they tried to make their argument through shame and guilt.

If you carry their statements out to completion you could say that we shouldn’t write letters, or use the telephone. We shouldn’t have cars because they isolate us and we should instead walk or ride in carriages so that we can talk to the people we pass. We shouldn’t spend our time reading because it keeps us from talking with people. Their argument could very quickly become that all technology, even the written word, is bad. It’s easy to see how quickly this argument could become ridiculous.

The end of the video was what bothered me the most though. At the end they share a story were a boy is lost and because he doesn’t have his phone he asks a girl for directions and they end up falling in love and getting married and living a long happy live together. They then make the argument that if the boy had been preoccupied by his phone he would have missed out on that opportunity. I had a very hard time with this logic, because by the same logic the boy could have missed out on meeting the love of his life because he didn’t join that online dating web site. He could have missed out on meeting the love of his life because he turned down a different street. Can you see how it’s just a little ridiculous?

But, it plays to the idea that social media is bad and being lost in our phones is bad.

This is very accepted sentiment. Occasionally people temper this sentiment, perhaps with a throw away statement that these technologies aren't bad in and of themselves, but then they go on to demonize our "addiction to social media".

People say that the argument is about these things in excess, but that’s not actually what they communicate or what I hear. For example I don’t think any of us would say that looking up directions on our phone would be using technology in excess, but that is exactly one of the things that the “Look Up” video argues against, saying that it would be better to ask someone for directions personally.

I often hear people demonizing social media not in excess, but in normal use.

Another example I’ve heard recently is someone saying that it’s terrible to see a couple sit down to dinner at a restaurant and both pull out their phones to take a picture of the restaurant or the food so they can share it on social media. Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this.

If the couple stays on their phones and doesn’t say a word to each other - ok, something is definitely wrong with that. Or if only one person does it and the other looks annoyed and irritated, well, then there’s probably a conversation that needs to happen between that couple about balance. But, if they, in agreement, take their picture and spend their minute online and then return to discussion together, well, I think that’s totally fine. I think when that happens, that couple is just trying to capture and share a moment.

I think what we forget is that as humans we have ALWAYS tried to document our lives and our world. And we have always been drawn to SHARING that documentation. It has just never before been so easy.

We have always tried to capture moments and share them with others. We’ve done it since drawing cave paintings. It’s part of the makeup of our very beings. Sometimes we’ve done it in writing, or in painting, or in poetry, sometimes we’ve done it in pictures. We are always driven to create and share. We have always been driven to connect and be recognized.

Social media has simple enabled us to do these things instantaneously and on a massive scale. (One could perhaps rightly argue that this has led to a dumbing down of creating - when you can accomplish the sensation of creating and sharing with something trivial that you spent no time or thought on, then your need is fulfilled with something that is half quality. But those are thoughts for another post and is not the argument I am making here).

I think my husband summed my thoughts on this up well when he said “demonizing social media is like demonizing fire.”

The thing that makes this example so perfect is that people don’t usually even think to demonize fire even though fire can be destructive. It can destroy a house when it’s used in excess.

I’m not arguing that social media and technology have no dangers, like fire it can be poorly used. But, fire gives us so many necessary and beneficial things that we cannot bring ourselves to see it as an enemy. We understand that fire is something we need to be cautious with, we handle it with care, and we teach others to handle it with care, but we don’t demonize it. I wish we could start to see social media like that.

I think the thing that bothers me so much about this whole conversation is the rhetoric. This video is the perfect example of that rhetoric. The rhetoric of the video isn’t balance, it’s abstinence. Not only that, but it’s guilt based and shame based and inaccurate.

At one point in the video it talks about how play grounds are empty now because parents and kids are on their devices all the time. I’m sorry, but the play grounds around me are anything but empty. I regularly meet friends at the play ground with our kids. In fact we usually organize such play dates over technology (i.e. text messaging, Facebook, etc). It’s a perfect example of social media enhancing face-to-face interaction instead of deteriorating it.

A friend raised a good point that perhaps this video isn’t targeted at my demographic, who tend to already understand using technology in balance, but instead targeted at younger demographics. She argued that she has regularly seen the imbalance in high school and college students, and perhaps she’s right. But I have to believe that our high school and college students deserve a little credit in how we approach them about this subject.

I don’t think they deserve to be shamed for their internet use. I don’t think that illogical extreme arguments are the way to teach them balance. I think that we should be able to talk to them about balance and trust them to learn that lesson, instead of trying to guilt them into believing that their phone’s are going to make them miss out on this amazing life they could have had if they had talked to that stranger on the street.

I think we would be better served telling them the truth. Social media and technology are going to enhance you’re life in amazing ways, but you need to be wise with how you use them. They can be dangerous and just like a fire they can burn down your house in excess. But they can also keep you warm and well fed. It’s important that you find the balance.

And I think that they will find the balance. High school and college students are notorious for excess. It is a season of life were you have to try things and learn from experience. They might have to try burning the house down so to speak, before they learn balance. But, I believe that they will learn it.

Just as human beings are inherently drawn to documenting our lives, creating, and sharing, we are also inherently drawn to human, personal, face-to-face interactions. We are too drawn to each other, too desperate for the touch and speech and physical closeness of others to ever give up face-to-face interactions all together.

This video makes the case against technology seem dire. As if we are completely losing touch with one another and if we don’t stop the train soon we will stop talking to each other all together. I just can’t believe that. In my experience this issue isn’t dire at all.

Well, that’s my two cents on the Look Up video. What do you all think?

Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany