Whether you are a spoken word enthusiast or not, there's a decent chance you may have seen or at least heard about Gary Turk's viral sensation, 'Look Up', self-described as a 'spoken word film for an online generation'. Revolving around a love story, the poem lambasts modern culture's affinity with technology; Turk's direct and simple verses punctuate images of young people gawping down at their phones and laptops, missing the world flying past them as they immerse themselves in a digital 'illusion'. The video scans somewhat tacitly over a voiceless, nameless generation of people,
"slaves to a world of technology we mastered, where our information gets sold by some rich greedy bastard".
My initial reaction to the video was one of contemplative understanding; having watched the video during the 5-minute walk to a cinema, 5 minutes in which I should have been looking up at the glorious grey buildings of West London and the cloudy sky that loomed overhead, I then sat down and turned around to see a sea of illuminated faces staring down into their mobile phones. My word, I thought to myself, is Gary Turk right? Are we the second Lost Generation, a horde of mindless zombies addicted to Facebook and YouTube? Rather worried and perturbed, I focussed my attentions on the new film 'Under the Skin'; 2 hours of an alien Scarlett Johansson wandering and probing the fragile human consciousness set me further on edge as I made my way out of the screening, a crowd of small blue screens leading the way to natural light outside.
When got home I wasted another 5 minutes of my life re-watching the video, on my laptop, rather than reading my book or swinging from a tree in the local park. Suddenly, it occurred to me that despite the millions of views and hundreds of thousands of likes, this Gary Turk might be a bit misguided in his views. I realised, much to my own surprise, that this rehashed sentiment has been rolled out from generation to generation. Scrolling through comments such as:
"This are [sic] all true. Most people are so busy on the technologies [sic] doing sh*t things"and:
"Made me cry, since the last two years I've spent most of my time under my duvet looking at my screens", I began to imagine the same sort of people leveling similar criticism at the radio, the television, the telephone and perhaps the telegram in times past. My imagination - perhaps a little ambitiously - stretched back to a time when some bloke moaned and groaned about the absence of the organic spoken voice in a written letter, the people of the world staring down at a piece of inked paper.
Beyond the absolute terms that are used:
"I have 422 friends, yet I am lonely. I speak to all of them every day, yet none of them really know me"to illustrate this barren isolated existence Gary lives in, or the latent hypocrisy of such a gloomy rhetoric being disseminated through the very medium he seeks to tear down, Gary has fallen into a remarkably unoriginal category of uninformed social critics, failing to see the bigger picture.
I do actually share a number of sentiments presented in this piece however, to Turk's credit: who wants to see a generation of children raised by iPads and MacBook Pros or a world reflected in filtered selfies? However, are we all as bad as people like Gary make us out to be? "We're a generation of idiots, smart phones and dumb people" serves as the thought of the day, an intermission before the grand romance begins to unfold on screen, free from this poisonous affliction we call technology.
'Look Up' presents nothing particularly novel in its message, yet it has inevitably captured the zeitgeist of the modern age: a precarious blend of excitement and dread has consumed - and will continue to consume- a species that shares an increasingly close relationship with the technology we have created: We've all heard about the colourful doomsday predictions surrounding all-consuming computers, be it Grey Goo or cybernetic Terminators roaming the planet, destroying all humans in their path. 35 million people have watched this video, and I can't help but think that it taps into a recurrent ideology that seeks to criticise the contemporary, avoiding a constructive dialogue about the future. We see the same mantra applied to music, art and film; golden ages of culture all seem to have apparently passed, and are confidently upheld by people who never lived through these periods of time.
Around the same time that 'Look Up' was posted to YouTube, the fabulous technological tool that encourages such an engaging and visually rich form of communication, we at Word On The Curb had recently filmed a poet perform a piece called 'Time of Our Reckoning'.
It begins with the words:
"The showering of technology is a precipitation of opportunity, but we need unity between the old and new school communities."It is a statement that extends the concerns shared in 'Look Up', but in a constructive and positive direction. We are all aware of the pitfalls of an overreliance on computers and mobile technology, and it is vital that we retain the authentic individual in the midst of development, as well as strong communal ties between the young and older generations, where there are perceptible differences in understanding of modern computer technologies. However, the presence of technology is inevitable and necessary in a globalised age of travel and long-distance communication. We should be asking ourselves how we can work with it and respect it, whilst maintaining our own identity. Yes, go and build a tree house, write a letter to grandma and form a book club, but remain mindful of the incredible capacity of technology to extend the limitations of the body, and to educate the mind. After all Gary, wasn't the computer the tool that helped you tell us exactly how bad it is?