Gary Turk’s YouTube video, “Look Up,” has reached nearly 55 million views as of today. In his captivating video, Turk poetically calls attention to the harmful effects of the Millennial generation’s obsession with their mobile devices. Many have become too immersed in the digital world and too absent in the real world as a direct result of the rapid expansion of technology. Users now focus on economizing superficial online relationships rather than carefully tending to their authentic offline relationships. The following is an excerpt from Turk’s viral video:
A world where we’re slaves to the technology we mastered,
where our information gets sold by some rich greedy bastard.
A world of self-interest, self-image, self-promotion,
where we share all our best bits, but leave out the emotion.
We are at our most happy with an experience we share,
but is it the same if no one is there.
Be there for your friends, and they’ll be there too,
But no one will be, if a group message will do.
We edit and exaggerate, we crave adulation,
we pretend we don’t notice the social isolation.
We put our words into order, until our lives are glistening,
we don’t even know if anyone is listening.
Being alone isn’t the problem, let me just emphasize,
that if you read a book, paint a picture, or do some exercise,
you are being productive, and present, not reserved or recluse,
you’re being awake and attentive, and putting your time to good use.
So when you’re in public, and you start to feel alone,
put your hands behind your head, and step away from the phone.
You don’t need to stare at your menu, or at your contact list,
just talk to one another, and learn to co-exist.
I can’t stand to hear the silence, of a busy commuter train,
when no one wants to talk through the fear of looking insane.
We’re becoming unsocial, it no longer satisfies
to engage with one another, and look into someone’s eyes.
We’re surrounded by children, who since they were born,
watch us living like robots, and think it’s the norm.
It’s not very likely you will make world’s greatest dad,
if you cant entertain a child without a using an iPad (Turk, 2014).
Turk specifically draws attention to the smart phone user’s growing similarity to that of a robot, suggesting that too many have become as mechanical as the miniature machines attached to their hands. The smart phone user’s desire for social validation creates an expanding self-obsession with his or her online image. The immediate gratification that comes with receiving positive feedback from an Instagram or Facebook post becomes a stimulant that the user grows to rely on. Users now prioritize updating their social media accounts before anything else, which as a result directly removes them from their immediate environment and envelops them in the digital domain.
Although the use of social media creates an efficient way to communicate with more people is less time, it also comes at a major cost. We end up trading deeper, interactive and meaningful relationships for shallow online relationships. The smart phone serves as a medium of communication that allows users to hide behind a screen when sharing who they are to others. They carefully select aspects of their characters that they choose to show to others and more often than not, people omit their insecurities. This is problematic because opening up about insecurities is an integral way people are able to connect with one another on a deeper level and create meaningful relationships.
The lack of real-life interaction also makes people uncomfortable in scenarios in which they have to speak in front of one another. Some are so unfamiliar with the concept that the mere idea of small talk is daunting. Since studies have shown that the majority of communication is nonverbal, people need to practice using hand gestures and other effective speaking skills to better communicate their message. As long as real-life interaction remains second to online interaction, interpersonal social skills will be lost, body language undetectable and attention spans cut short to that of 4G speed. Emily Dargo’s thesis explores the effects of technology on face-to-face communication:
One study examined the relationship between the presence of mobile devices and the quality of real-life, in-person social interactions. In a naturalistic field experiment, researchers found that conversations in the absence of mobile communication technologies were rated as significantly superior compared with those in the presence of a mobile device. People who had conversations in the absence of mobile devices reported higher levels of empathetic concern, while those conversing in the presence of a mobile device reported lower levels of empathy (Misra, Cheng, Genevie, & Yuan, 2014). In another study, Przybylski and Weinstein showed similar results that proved the presence of mobile communication devices in social settings interferes with human relationships. In two separate experiments, the authors found evidence that these devices have negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality, especially notable when individuals are engaging in personally meaningful topics. Though much research has shown the negative effects of technology on face-to-face interaction, one study found that cell phone use in public might make individuals more likely to communicate with strangers. In 2011, Campbell and Kwak examined whether and how mobile communication influences the extent to which one engages face to face with new people in public settings. By accounting for different types of cell phone uses, the study found evidence that mobile phone use in public actually facilitated talking with co-present strangers, for those who frequently rely on cell phones to get and exchange information about news (Emily Drago).
Drago points out that smart phones allow us to be more open to connecting with strangers. Although the idea of connecting with many strangers sounds like a positive effect of smart phones’ ability to mass communicate, it actually limits people’s ability to create authentic relationships because the efficient use of online apps immediately appeals to users’ inherent laziness.
Online apps allow us to be eat faster, pay faster, locate faster and even date faster. But, wait, date faster? What happens when the efficiency of a smart phone is applied to dating, a traditionally slowly nourished and enjoyable activity? Dating apps such as Tinder, Grindr or Bumble are a great example of how something as intimate as a romantic relationship with another person has become as dispensable as toilet paper.
First of all, choosing a date is now easier than choosing a place to eat. Users are arguably more inclined to spend time reading a Yelp review for a restaurant before reading a Tinder profile. Once connected with a stranger, online conversations are short-lived, non-committal and carry a jaded tone. If a date does not work out accordingly, meeting a new prospect is at the convenience of a swipe.
Working hard for something gives it value and when it is too convenient to meet a new stranger, people will not endure the difficulties that come with getting to know someone deeper. Smart phones have the ability to connect strangers, but they lack the ability to sustain meaningful relationships. As Barry Schwartz suggested in his TED talk “The Paradox of Choice,” too much choice limits one’s ability to choose. People are presented with too many options and ultimately end up making half-assed decisions, still thinking about the options that they did not choose and already lining those up for the future.
Life has become built at the convenience of a click. Apps are developed everyday and they all seek the same goal: to make things faster, easier and more convenient. Perhaps the answer to lasting fulfillment is to put down smart phones or as Gary Turk might say, “look up” and cherish existing relationships that allow people to share their faults instead of putting their time and energy into building a faultless online persona.