Video about unplugging ironically goes viral

Because nothing says "get offline" better than a viral YouTube hit, right?


Brendan O'Connor


Published May 5, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 9:08 am CDT

Here is a five-minute, sepia-toned video in which a wide-eyed British man in a sweater—the video’s writer, narrator, and director Gary Turk—tells you to stop looking at your phone and go outside. It has more than 13 million views.

“’Look Up,’” reads the video’s description, “is a lesson taught to us through a love story, in a world where we continue to find ways to make it easier for us to connect with one another, but always results in us spending more time alone.”

In fact, “Look Up” is an absurd, nostalgic paean to a sentimentalized and nonexistent past, based on a straw man argument about the way we live now: Nobody talks to each other anymore! the video says. We’re all connected but nobody really knows each other. We can’t see the forest for the Instagram filter. Get off your phones and fall in love! But before you do, don’t forget to subscribe, share, and follow Gary on Twitter and his band on Tumblr.

Heck, maybe it’s just because I live in New York, but I’m not interested in talking to strangers while waiting for the bus, and I’m not interested in having strangers talk to me. If looking at my phone is a step toward making sure that doesn’t happen, I’ll look at my phone all day long. If I had my nose buried in a book or a magazine—which, as a matter of fact, I may very well have, even if I’m looking at my phone!—would Turk be so outraged? It seems unlikely. Magazines, after all, are “real.” iPhones aren’t “real.” (They’re not?) No. They are not. (What?) Just roll with it.

Then again, as backwards as the logic of “Look Up” may be, its position is not a unique one: Remember last summer’s “I Forgot My Phone”?

The popularity of these videos cannot be denied; they clearly resonate with some anxiety we have about the amount of time we spend online, but this is mistaking the cause for the effect: You’re not lonely because you spend so much time online; you spend so much time online because you’re lonely. And Turk is right about one thing, at least: If you are busy looking at your phone in the middle of a date, you deserve to die alone. This is totally reasonable. But to imply that the behavior demonstrated in the two videos above is somehow normal or acceptable is totally absurd. People do not behave this way. If they do, they are probably teenagers—which is to say, they are going to ignore you one way or another.

Moreover, it is not totally ridiculous to think that the things that happen in physical space are somehow “more real” than the things that happen on the Internet. But increasingly we are coming to find that it is simply not true: Just ask anyone who has ended up marrying someone they met on OkCupid—or, for that matter, the families of the victims of suicide resulting from cyberbullying—whether the things that happen online are “less real” than the things that happen IRL. Where is your Valencia filter now?

H/T The Independent | Image via Gary Turk/YouTube

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*First Published: May 5, 2014, 1:22 pm CDT