Look Wherever You Want

Because I can guarantee there will be something worth seeing.

Let me begin by saying that I own a smart phone. I own a tablet and a laptop. I am in possession of a Nintendo Wii and a PlayStation 3. My hair dryer is digital. In short, I like technology.

So you can imagine my interest in a YouTube-hosted, spoken word piece about the pitfalls of social media. Look Up by Gary Turk was posted on April 25th but seems to have gone viral in the last few days, or at least that’s when it’s been hitting my Facebook timeline and Twitter feed on a daily basis. In case you haven’t seen it, check it out here.

The overwhelming response to this video has been support for it’s message; I’ve seen it shared with captions like ‘This is the wake up call we all need’ or ‘This is such a challenging message’. In no way do I want this post to be an aggressive response to these people, I can see where they, and Gary Turk, are coming from, but I want to take a little time to explain why this video bugs me so much.

The assertion that social media is ‘anything but’ really isn’t a new idea; digital-skeptics have been trying to tell me so for years. Look Up tells us that we’re ‘slaves’ to technology because we’re pretending that sitting and looking at a screen means we’re connecting with each other. I think what this video assumes is that there is a lack of balance, that using social media is all we’re doing. I know very few people for whom social media isn’t, for the most part, a means to and end. I use group messages to organise going to play laser tag, or I send a Snapchat of a funny experience, which I can then share in more detail when I see you in person.

Okay, so what about when it’s not a means to an end, but instead our exclusive mode of talking to someone. Should we really be demonising the technology that allows a confused teenager to talk to other people who’ve experienced an eating disorder, because their social network is just too small to know someone ‘in real life’ that they can connect with?

I don’t want to fall into the trap of idealising technology in the same way Gary Turk seems to have demonised it. The way I see it, technology is a blank canvas, which can be used well or badly, depending on the user. Just like any other inanimate object.

A lonely person may well use social media in an obsessive way, but let’s not assume that the girl sat next to me at the bus stop is lonely or anti-social  just because she’s pressing a few keys on an electronic device. Social media might well be a symptom of loneliness, but naming it at the root problem seems short-sighted to me. Someone’s lonely, let’s not jump straight to blaming their online presence and actually get to know them.

The other issue this video raises is the on-going, shameless, widening of the divide between digital-natives and non-natives. The way I live my life is not inherently different just because some of my communication is transmitted through a series of Os and 1s. You think self-editing and self-promotion is a troubling new result of social media? I will refer to to the entire Victorian period of British history and, frankly, Cicero too. I love people, all people; lovers and haters of the internet alike, so please stop suggesting that I live in a markedly different, closed off, self-absorbed way, because I really don’t.

Look up, look down, look sideways; whichever way you look you’ll probably glance someone new, and hey, you might even have a montage marriage with them.

Do you agree with me or Gary? Comment below or tweet @ElisabethShuker.

First Season Review: The Bar

Season one of the Bar is an 8 episode long webseries released on YouTube, from October to November 2012. Creator, writer and producer Olivia Bosek plays our protagonist, Jenny Scarsdale; an aspiring documentary film maker undercover in an apparently mafia-owned bar in Queens, New York City. On Twitter the Bar describes itself as ‘a ridiculous black comedy webseries’ and ridiculous it certainly is.

From ‘White Hendrix’ to dead bodies in sports bags to gourmet hot dogs the writers of the Bar are certainly not shooting from realism and, at times, the ridiculous is awkward rather than amusing. Jenny is joined on the bar by Sky, played by Nick Lawson and his absurdities feel more naturally funny Bosek’s, whose acting is occasionally stiff.

Similarly, the success of the ‘mafia scenes’ is fairly hit and miss; the antics of JB and Iggy are at times amusing, but hardly induce laughter. Interactions with two rivals and two FBI agents are probably their best moments.

The editing of each episode is potentially the strongest link in the series. The narrative transitions in and out of vlog-style, allowing Jenny to offer her gloss of the events. In the main scenes, annotations scrawl across the screen, once again presenting Jenny’s thoughts to us. Two ‘missing annotations’ in Episode 7 allowed the Bar to reach for the interactivity that is becoming typical of YouTube webseries. Unfortunately, a fairly low viewership limited the success of the idea.

Whilst it’s not always successful, the Bar presents us with another take on story-telling in 5-minute episodes and it certainly has enough originality and potential to shoot for a season two.

But don’t take my word for it, have a watch for yourself. Comment below or tweet @ElisabethShuker to let me know what you think!

Well, hey there!

This is the umpteenth time I’ve started a new blog, but I’ve decided to post my own writing alongside my reviews of other people’s; it makes more sense if it’s all in the same place. I’ve moved from msn spaces, to myspace blogs, to tumblr, to blogspot and now I’m here; hopefully this will be a new start that sticks!

Ultimately, my greatest passion is telling and being told stories, my English and History degree has helped me realise this! I’m much more interested in thinking about how people from all walks of life interact with ‘history’ and ‘literature’ than tackling ‘academic’ questions, but it is surprising how often the two overlap.

Over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested in new media and how it is changing that way we interact with stories. I’m particularly enjoying YouTube at the moment, but I have all kinds of time for any platform that makes a story interactive.

All that being said, I am an eternal lover of books and films, the more traditional modes of story telling!

I’m in my second year at the University of York, I hope to one day work in publishing or some kind of media and praise the Lord as I do it.

– Elisabeth Shuker