16 October, 2018   By: Wendy Caccetta

Gary Turk’s video urging people to look up from their mobile phone and live better lives hit a nerve - it's been viewed more than 600 million times. The man behind the internet hit was in Perth recently to partner with RAC in a life-saving message.

Five years ago English filmmaker Gary Turk’s former girlfriend, frustrated that he was paying more attention to his mobile phone than her, gave him a challenge which set his life on a course he never would have imagined.

The dare: go a day without your mobile phone.

Back in 2013 Turk admits he was one of the masses who had their faces buried in their screen 24-7.

“There were a few situations where my girlfriend would start to get annoyed,” he says. “We’d share in a funny moment and I’d end up taking a picture and sharing it before we could enjoy it together. 

“We were going out for a walk and I wouldn’t really be enjoying it with her. I’d be texting or posting. So she challenged me to see if I could go one day without my mobile phone," says Turk.

"It was only one day and it was easy to do because I knew I’d get my phone back the next day, but I immediately felt happier, high on life because I didn’t feel the need to post everything."

The lesson had been learned. Not being a slave to his screen freed Turk up to take in the world around him. What he saw was a sea of people all with their eyes fixed firmly on their phone screens.

“I felt I had more time, I had more attention to give to people, I had more connection and the weird thing was, it took me to get off my phone to see how much other people use theirs.”

An assistant film director working in the television and comedy industry in the UK, Turk wrote a poem about it, turned it into a five-minute film, using a cheap camera and with starring roles by his girlfriend, parents, brother, nephews and nieces.

Gary Turk sitting on a barrier at the beach
Gary Turk believes that technology should be used in moderation

It was the also the first time he had written a poem, which is the film’s narrative. Its lyrics encourage people to look up from their phone and computer screens and start living in the real world again:

Now the parks are so quiet, it gives me a chill
to see no children outside and the swings hanging still.
There’s no skipping or hopscotch, no church and no steeple,
we’re a generation of idiots, smart phones and dumb people.

So look up from your phone, shut down that display,
take in your surroundings, and make the most of today.
Just one real connection is all it can take,
to show you the difference that being there can make.

When Turk finished his film, he put it away for a year before posting it on Facebook. 

He couldn’t have predicted what happened next. Look Up went viral and became the most viewed Spoken Word film on YouTube, attracting news coverage on the BBC, Fox News and Time and even being parodied in animated sitcom South Park. Nearly overnight, Turk had started a global internet phenomenon that has placed him firmly at the front of a technology-in-moderation movement.

Today, it has more than 600 million views around the world and has been translated into Portuguese, German and Arabic among other languages. In China alone it got about 400 million views on QQ, the Chinese equivalent of YouTube.

It also notched up a series of awards winning Best Viral Film at Cannes Media and TV Awards and two Gold Lovie Awards for Best Viral Film and Best Individual Performance at Europe’s annual awards for the best on the internet.

At the 2016 Webby Awards, held annually by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, it was nominated for Best Viral Film.

“It’s the craziest story,” Turk says. “Anyone who works in the industry wants to know the secret to getting all these views, but really, all I did was create a YouTube account just to upload the video and posted the video on Facebook to my friends. 

“I had about 400 friends. I said ‘Hey guys I’ve made this video about a year ago, I’d love to know what you think. It might seem a bit ironic that I’m putting this on the internet. I thought I’d share it with you guys. Hope you enjoy it’. I posted it and then I did nothing else. 

“But with them liking it and sharing it with their friends, it went on. Somehow this chain reaction happened and within five days it had a million views. On its sixth day it did 10 million views in one day. That was the 5th of May 2014. It was everywhere. 

“I was getting emails left right and centre. I was getting asked to appear on television. I don’t really know what happened. It’s such an organic thing that everyone who watched it felt impassioned enough to share it. I had put into words something that we all experience.

“Some people didn’t like it but they shared it as well…I think It was creating that conversation.”

Turk, 31, is now in demand around the world to talk about technology and our relationship to it and as a spoken word artist and poet. He is also working on a book on the impact technology has on our lives which he hopes to also make a feature-length documentary. 

In October 2018, Turk joined forces with RAC WA to lend his words and appear in a ground-breaking campaign urging people to stop the life endangering habit of texting and driving. 

RAC's Pat Walker and poet Gary Turk in South Perth
RAC Executive General Manager Advocacy and Members with poet and advocate Gary Turk

Mobile phone use by drivers has become a significant road safety issue and is known to increase the risk of crashing by up to four times. 

Through the campaign RAC hopes to raise even more awareness of the dangers of drivers engaging with their mobile phones while behind the wheel.

“It’s nice to find a company that is on the same mission as me,” says Turk, who himself says he uses Apple’s Do Not Disturb feature which silences calls, alerts and notifications when he is driving. 

“People are very incentivised to look down at their phone because the more time they spend on their phone, the more of their attention advertisers get to promote their products.

“RAC is asking people to spend less time on their phone. They are caring about people’s lives. They want people to lead better lives and have a better quality of life. That’s a great thing.”

“This is not about changing the world but sending it in the right direction. That’s what I’m trying to do. To make sure phones are actually benefitting us.”

Do you think you could go a day without your mobile phone like Gary Turk?

You should when you're driving. As well as being illegal, you're four times more likely to crash if you use a mobile phone while driving. 

We're calling on all WA drivers to make the choice to put away their phones and other devices and stay focused on the drive.

Look up, WA. 

Look Up WA