We Are Still Looking Down
Last night, at 7:53 PM, I accepted the request of my one thousand and fifty-seventh friend on Facebook. In some virtual dimension of my consciousness, I could see neon confetti falling and hear victorious Spartan men crying and feel as though I received a letter announcing my full-ride scholarship to Harvard University. After allowing myself to indulge in my cybernetic triumph, reality spiraled me back to the silence of my room where I sat alone, with my legs crossed and my door shut.
A handful of hours later, after scavenging the internet for fascinating articles to post for my one thousand and fifty seven friends to appreciate, I stumbled upon a spoken word film that, of course, captured my attention after the Ebay commercial ended and before the final image flashed. As a poet and an outspoken activist, the poem’s heartfelt discouragement of social media peaked my interest enough to share it, along with an artsy quote from the poem: “Learn to coexist”.
The poem, entitled “Look Up” by Gary Turk (you may watch the video here, if you wish to do so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZS9Wte1gX9g), revolves around the question of what we miss when our attention is enveloped in our technology. The poem artistically hits major argumentative points, such as we are not the selves that we paint on social media, and virtual relationships are as false as they are animated. It goes on to depict a striking story of a man who met his future wife while asking for directions, only later in the story learning that none of this happened because he was on his phone.
Only after some time to ponder the happenings of that day did I recognize the irony in the poem. I spent five minutes and one second of my time – to say the absolute least – listening to a poem with tear-jerking orchestral music in the background, about the necessity to drop our technology and “learn to coexist”. However, after watching this beautifully directed video on YouTube about something that a large percentage of me believes in, I could not help but contemplate the effectiveness in regards to its cause. Yes, I cried when the male character kissed his dying wife on the forehead, only to learn that she was never given the chance to be his wife. Yes, it articulated, in an exquisitely genuine manner, a movement for which I would wholeheartedly argue to my friends. But did that inspire me to shut down my computer and pick up a book? Did Turk’s words truly influence the way I perceive social media, or did he just beautifully reiterate something I have always believed in? Did sharing that video do anything to further the cause, or did I just encourage my one thousand and fifty-seven friends to spend time watching another video and then to share it, so their thousand-some friends will do the same?
Being hit with this realization, my mind brought me back to a number of articles I had read about the same topic. One of the articles, for example, entitled “Hiding Behind the Screen” by Roger Scruton focuses on the ideas that social media provides us with a medium onto which we may portray our most attractive, and perhaps most deceptive, selves, and that the relationships we may develop online are safe and unreal.
The article strongly argues the same point that the video argues, but which medium is most effective? Was it the article or the video that best persuaded me to shut off my computer and take a walk around my neighborhood? Did either of them?
In such a comparison, it is important to recognize distinctive features in both pieces, and question how those attributes stand in the effectiveness of its delivery. The article takes a psychological approach to support the argument, explaining in depth the detriments of using social media as a way to cultivate relationships. Scruton writes, “In the once normal conditions of human contact, people became friends by being in each other’s presence, understanding all the many subtle signals, verbal and bodily, whereby another testifies to his character, emotions, and intentions … When attention is fixed on the other as mediated by the screen, however… [one is] not risking [his or her self] in the friendship to nearly the same extent as [he or she] risk[s] [his or her self] when [he or she] meet[s] the other face to face.” He goes on to describe how one engages in a relationship with the screen that depicts the messages, not the person creating them. As clear through the excerpt from the article, Scruton’s piece is dense with information as opposed to emotion, developed theory as opposed to personal experience. While Scruton’s article is thick with his negative opinion, he still uses psychological information to support his argument.
Similarly, in the video, as Turk appears in front of a black backdrop looking straight into the camera, and clips play of teens scrolling through their newsfeeds on Facebook, his voice rings:
“I have 422 friends yet I am lonely
I speak to all of them everyday yet none of them really know me
The problem I have sits in the space in-between
Looking into their eyes or at a name on a screen
All this technology we have
It’s just an illusion
Community, companionship, a sense of inclusion
When you step away from this device of delusion
You awaken to see a world of confusion
So when you’re in public and you start to feel alone
Put your hands behind your head, step away from the phone
You don’t need to stare at your menu or at your contact list
Just talk to one another, learn to co-exist”
The poem states a problem, how the author perceives that problem, and how the reader may escape that problem. There is no informational evidence to support the poet’s case, only artistic representation of a predicament the poet presents. It important to keep in mind that, generally, an article is designed to be descriptive, where as a poem is designed to be emotional.
So, the article provides a more logical approach as to why social media is more detrimental than it is beneficial. However, which medium draws the most attention, and will be most easily passed along? It is much more difficult for a thirteen page article to capture your attention over a five minute video filled with a sexy English man, beautiful background music, and a somber story that is integrated to leave you a little bit broken. While the article is filled with fact and is definitely persuasive in its argument, it is only entertaining to those who enjoy reading informational articles. The video, in contrast, is written, directed, edited to be easily watched and passed along.
So while both mediums have their positive and negative traits that allow them leverage in their effectiveness, the video provides a strong message that will most likely remain in the viewer’s mind. And while the article provides strong support for the writer’s case, it is an unfortunate but noteworthy point, as written in Christine Rosen’s article “Faking Cultural Literacy”, that most people do not care much about the hard facts. Whether or not the viewer decides to act upon the suggestion that he/she is given is entirely up to the viewer. As for myself, while I recognize that very few of my one hundred and fifty-seven Facebook friends are anything more than virtual acquaintances, I also recognize that I am a product of my generation which will continue to be enveloped in our technology.