Look in before you claim to look up
Posted July 1, 2014on:
I reflected briefly on the Look Up video recently.
The Fine Bros got YouTubers to share their thoughts on the same video. The main and bonus videos are on this page.
I thought that the first video leaned towards the populist view of technological determinism (e.g., phones make us less social). The second (and less viewed video) provided more critical analyses and opinions of Look Up.
The central tension is that mobile and social media might make it easier for us to ignore people, but they also make it easier for us to connect with people far away or with cultures that we would otherwise never reach. These technologies also enable us to communicate more richly (multimedia) and over a longer time (asynchronously, not just here and now). These, in turn, lead to communication that is potentially more meaningful and reflective. However, arguing along this line only brings you to a stalemate or the time-tested, middle ground “surely there must be a balance” answer.
I think we can do better. If you want to do more than just forward that video to someone, you might end up asking yourself: What should I do?
I think you should start by realizing that practically everything we do is a social-technical or behavioural-technical system. Pencils and paper-based letters are technologies created by people using other technologies. We use them to communicate with other people with the help of packaging, payment, and transport technologies.
No one oohs or ahhs, makes a video, or has international visitors observe each time a classroom teacher tells her/his students to complete a worksheet or have them write pen pal letters. But when students find their own teachers on YouTube or communicate with each other via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, adults worry.
Adults worry because kids do not have to be in class to do these things. They also do not have to look each other in the eye or need to sharpen any pencils. But are these worries warranted?
Perhaps we have forgotten how we all used to be (or might still be) socially awkward. We have forgotten what it is like to be a learner.
Perhaps we forget that people are social creatures and that is unlikely to change. We forget that is the essence of who we are and will continue to be unlike the dystopian futures that Hollywood movies paint.
Perhaps we do not realize how the human race finds new ways to communicate. We might not realize that is how we move forward and we worry because it seems so new.
Look at it this way. No one in the modern world really gives a shit about modern toilet bowls and plumbing simply because they are accepted, everyday technologies. Over time, some technologies become so transparent that there is no thought or judgement about using them. The technologies are not thought of as usual and are not labelled right or wrong.
So instead of asking you to look up from your device, I say you look in at yourself. You can choose to use or abuse. You can think about the why and how you use technology. What you should not do is judge and say look up without first looking in.