A couple of weeks ago I showed a group of teenagers in our church youth group a video that criticized modern uses of technology. I didn’t indicate my thoughts about the video until the students had watched it and verbalized their opinions. The students’ responses might surprise you.
The video is entitled “Look Up” and it has over 36 million views on YouTube. It is a spoken word piece that begins with opening lines that refer to feelings of isolation that can occur when people exclusively interact with others via social media. The author and performer Gary Turk begins: “I have 422 friends, yet I am lonely. I speak to all of them everyday, yet none of them really know me.”
Turk goes on to emphatically state that we are slaves to technology; that we need to step away from our phones, computers and iPads and “learn to coexist.” He continues to articulate how technology has replaced the experiences of his youth. He says that now “there is no skipping, no hopscotch, no church and no steeple – we’re a generation of idiots – smart phones, and dumb people.”
As the short progresses it illustrates how people can miss life changing relationship opportunities that are right in front of them because they simply fail to engage in the present. The video concludes with Turk saying “Look up from your phone, shut down that display; Stop watching this video and live life the real way.”
After the film concluded, I asked the students for their input. Immediately several students argued against technology, supporting the video’s hostility towards our avid use of technology. Ironically, some of the same students who are regularly locked on to their devices at church complained that their siblings don’t even look them in the eyes anymore when they speak to them because they are so engrossed in their smartphones. They expressed disappointment and frustration with this and soon a chorus of technological complaints arose like a great mob reaching to pull the plug from the socket of the technological world.
And then, just as the critique reached its height, a soft-spoken student offered up a differing opinion. Yes, technology can have downsides, he articulated, but it also has tremendous upsides. We can communicate from great distances, receive information that we didn’t have easy access to before, heal people and even change the future for the better. Sure, we need to use the technology properly – he continued – but it is just a tool – we choose whether it is used in a good or bad way.
After a good deal of back and forth arguments and counter arguments, and a considerable amount of further discussion, the group organically came to a consensus of opinion. They concluded together that good uses of technology enhance our human relationships and do not detract from them. The adults in the room, who had refrained from entering into the debate, later remarked how fascinating it was to watch the students process the information before them and then come to the conclusion that they had decided.
The conversation impacted me as well. It reminded me that it is often important to give people the space and the permission to wrestle with the contemporary ethical dilemmas that we face in life. So, often we live life in a manner that fails to reflect on our present circumstances. Watching our young people grapple in community with one of the great ethical discussions of our time, the use of technological advancements, gave me hope in a better tomorrow and a brighter day ahead.