In spring 2019, the Mental Health Collective worked with thirty-four young people aged 14, 15 and 16 in North London to explore what is really going on with mobile phones and mental health. Are mobile phones cutting us off from each other, zoning us out and damaging our mental health? Or is this a moral panic, like in the 1950s when people thought that rock and roll music was damaging teenagers brains? Together, we wrote an original report:“There are no #PhoneZombies: Thinking for ourselves about mobile phones and mental health”. To launch the report, we led perhaps the UK’s first nationwide, participatory April Fool’s joke, where people across the country appeared to turn into zombies on their phones and started marching to London to eat the Queen.
Our April Fool’s joke terrified the Oscar winning director, Danny Boyle. We gave evidence on our report in the Houses of Parliament, to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Technology and Intergenerational Connection.
Showcasing young people’s own experiences and analysis, our There are no #PhoneZombies: Thinking for ourselves about mobile phones and mental health report argues that the relationship between mobile phones and mental health is not yet determined. It will depend on the choices we make as individuals, in our relationships and as a society. Young people are making these choices already – they not passive victims, floating helplessly in a predetermined direction unless they are ‘saved’ by adults. Decisions about technology need to be made together with young people, in the context of a broader set of choices about how we want to live as a society.
The report featured in the Huffington Post and Islington Tribune, and was released on 1st April, alongside what we believe was Britain’s first participatory April Fool’s joke played on social media. In the early hours of April Fools’ Day morning, footage started circulating of people zoned out on their phones and turning into zombies. First videos were posted from Mexico City, and then as the morning went on, footage of #PhoneZombies started circulating from the Highlands of Scotland, County Durham, Manchester, Merseyside, Kent, Brighton, Bristol, the Isle of Wight, until a plague of #PhoneZombies emerged in London! As the morning went on, it became clear that the #PhoneZombies were marching on Buckingham Palace and coming to eat the Queen!!
The Oscar winning film-director Danny Boyle said he was “absolutely terrified”.
On 17th June 2019, the Mental Health Collective presented the findings of our report in the Houses of Parliament, to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Technology and Intergenerational Connection.
Our key message is: There are no #PhoneZombies. We’re alive, we’re awake, we’re thinking for ourselves – and together, we can decide where we want to go with this technology next.
We’re grateful to the National Lottery Community Fund for supporting this work.