The Death Of Conversation

January 23rd, 2014

death of conversation-11

I originally took these photographs as it was something I kept seeing over and over again as well as experiencing first hand. It originally caught my eye as there was a certain symmetry to these people locked simultaneously yet separately in the same action and it appealed on a visual level, but as I continued I noticed an inherent sadness to the proceedings. I saw that smartphones were becoming a barrier to communication in person. I saw how people used it as a social prop, to hide their awkwardness, to fill the silence but as I continued to observe and document this modern phenomena I felt that the devices were actually causing the awkwardness and the silence. They basically allow people to withdraw rather than engage. 

All social etiquette regarding the use of phones in company seems to have disappeared. The device take precedence over the person that is present and that felt wrong. It is a form of rejection and lowers the self-worth of the person super-ceded for a device. I feel it also highlighted a growing sense of self-absorption in people as they would rather focus on their world in their phone rather than speak to the person they are with.

When I noticed and photographed these people, they do not even seem present in the real world. They are “plugged in” to a virtual world of their own making. I have nothing against technology at all but I feel it is starting to affect social cohesion and we need to know when to switch it off or we will become permanently switched off from each other. The strange and interesting phenomena is that people are starting to derive more pleasure from their “computer cuddles” than from their person to person interactions. Personally I find online communication quite sterile and a very poor substitute to its face to face counterpart but you can see that a lot of people are searching more and more into the virtual world for their emotional fixes than in the real world which is crazy. I think the visible rise of narcissm might be the tipping factor as they know that every single thing that arrives on their device is somehow connected to them whereas in conversation you are not always the focus. Its almost as if we are starting to become incapable of processing someone else’s life because we have become so pre-occupied with our own.

It has to be said…smartphones have made everyone seriously dull. You’re in company, so act like it. I know everyone else is doing it but that is how nazi germany started. Yes, it stops you feeling awkward and lets you pretend to be doing something rather than engage in conversation but just leave it alone for five minutes and see how you get on…you might be alright. Disappearing into your phone certainly isn’t going to help. You know what you’re looking at can wait, you know its not important so just put it away. It was actually better when cigarettes were used as social props, yes it killed you but at least people were more fun to hang out with. Bore off!

Additional: This gallery of photographs has gone viral around the world since they were featured on the and the global response has shown how much of an issue it is. Hundreds of comments have been left discussing this topic with people both defensive and confessional about their own use but the most poignant remarks and the bulk of reactions are related to how miserable and rejected it makes people feel and how sad they think it is that we are disconnecting from each other. The rise of the smartphone has been so rapid that we have not had time to work out the social etiquette but we desperately need to put some ground rules in place to stop it having a detrimental affect on our inter-personal relations.

One of the most amazing things from this project has been that people have got in touch to tell me that it has helped them and their immediates tackle the problem by questioning when it is appropriate to use and when it isn’t. If you are suffering in silence in the company of your partners, families and friends as they prioritise their phone life over their real life why not confront the situation and set up some basic boundaries…altho you might have to message them to get their attention!


33 Responses

  1. […] just in case you think it's only younger generations with technology problems, check out these photos by a photographer of the world around him…he called them "The Death of […]

  2. joe miller says:

    Its hard for me to take this article seriously when Godwins law is invoked almost immediately. ('s_law) Also, nothing is new under the sun. People have used social crutches since long before smartphones.

  3. Anonymous says:

    You’re just now noticing this? This has been an upcoming issue since the day the smartphone was released. The fact that it is now getting the publicity it deserved is slightly disappointing. It’s a little too late to start setting ground rules… but I guess you gotta start somewhere.

    • admin says:

      its never too late to do anything…the rise of the smartphone was relatively rapid, there just wasn’t time to implement social etiquette regarding their use, but now there is…

  4. JoJo says:

    Very true, and yet there is more than a little irony in you using the medium to share your work and spread the word! Perhaps the people in your next shot could be reading your blog!

    • admin says:

      Hi JoJo, has, yes, if i could, maybe i would…yes, i guess it does feel somewhat ironic that people will read my post on their phones but the issue is not with people using them, just using them in company…so even though people might be on their device as a result of my photographs, I hope that they might make them think when they choose to look at them…cheers bcr

  5. Friedrich Schneidau says:

    Well said my good sir. (Or madam!)
    You can see they’re so absorbed in there phones that they don’t even notice you taking pictures. Besides the woman at the back who appears to be reading notes.
    I am one of these that on occasion do spend to much time on there phones. (Ironically, I’m using my phone to write this comment ha!)
    However, it is most saddening and in someway despairing that society is going this way. But, unfortunately, there seems to ve very little that can be done about it. As technology becomes more and more advanced the trend will continue to get worse.(Presumably).

    But.. Alas, I babble. Well shot and nice post (if that’s the right terminology to use in this situation)

    • admin says:

      hi friedrich, glad you liked the post (def right terminology), yes, one of the benefits of photographing people on their phones is that they are always unaware as gazing downwards…I would like to think that things can improve, we just need to install some basic social boundaries which would allow people to get the most out of this amazing technology without it taking over our lives and interfering as much as it does currently with our face to face interactions…cheers bcr (a sir)

  6. George says:

    And alas I am reading this on my phone whilst my girlfriend is pottering around the bedroom trying to have a conversation with me.

  7. Martin says:

    A powerful article, and whilst I fully understand, I don’t even think we’ve seen half the effect yet. Kids these days (I’m only 18 myself!) are brought up with iPads… I really fear for the next generation. The people who are around about 30 now ware probably the best people with a good blend of technology know-how but also with a good deal of restraint.

    Having said that, I think it’s unfair to generalise. Most people on their phones probably are genuinely checking work emails, or texting their kid at uni abroad, for example. There is method. Yes, there’s the odd person who is just using it for social media, but you must also not forget a by-product of this working world we live in, where people are expected to live and breathe the organisation they work for, is that you always have to be super-connected. But agreed: there’s a time and a place for it.

    • admin says:

      thanks for getting in touch martin, good to hear perspective of someone your age, I remember a time before mobile phones (if u can imagine that!) and just feel we allow them to intrude way too much and its up to us to instill some boundaries for ourselves so we can switch off once in a while and also for those who we are with so that we communicate with them too…cheers bcr

      • Martin says:

        I 100% agree with you: it is a tragedy and it’s getting out of hand. What sort of world do we live in when inanimate objects control us..! Indeed, I would like to show restraint. In fact, I would like the whole world to show restraint. But the (tragic) reality is that the world has changed massively. And if I don’t evolve with it, the world does not stop for me. I don’t like overly-using technology (I’m not one of the cool kids who take ‘selfies’ or pictures of their food anywhere and everywhere, don’t worry) and I’m well aware there is a generational problem. But I think it’s necessary these days. Gone are the 9am-5pm working days, gone are the conversations. People are too busy, sending that email is much more convenient for both, to the detriment of vital personable skills which we could get if we had the chat over a coffee. As for the future, jobs demand these days you have basic computer skills. You have to reply to your boss’ phone call, or email, asap. It’s a sad, sad reality, but it’s an issue I’m not sure anyone can do anything about.

        • admin says:

          Its such a shame as they are incredible devices which can do so much and were designed to facilitate our lives and they did because you can now work anywhere anytime but it also ruined our lives as you can work anywhere anytime. they created a permanently open door to the office but we must know we can shut it once in a while, and bosses need to know they can’t always come in!

          • Martin says:

            Yes! Couldn’t agree more. We’re slaves to technology. We’ll see what the future holds, it certainly looks bright (!)

  8. Anders says:

    Thanks for highlighting this issue with your great really is a modern-day curse. My good friend, the swing artist Ray Gelato recently made a great song and video about exactly the same thing, take a look
    It’s alot of fun!

  9. Howard says:

    The irony here is we are sitting reading this and responding on social media ie glued to the phone doing exactly what your objecting to –

    • admin says:

      hi howard, that’s true, but its only a problem if you are in company..if you are on your own its no problem. We can connect digitally but only as long as its not at the expense of our real life interactions…

  10. Vanina says:

    Thank you for posting this, I have noticed this (horrible) trend as well. I also noticed that people do NOT think anymore, when there is a disagreement one simply takes out his phone and googles the answer. AWFUL. It scares me for the future generations…

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your comment Vanina, we can but be aware and try to put some basic boundaries and social etiquette in place and maybe we can incorporate this technology into our lives without it taking over…

  11. Grace Avery says:

    Thank you for your inspirational approach to the photographic essay!

  12. gbm says:

    I echo everyone’s comments, especially Douglas. As a father of 2 young children I’m hoping desperately I can help them avoid falling into this trap of being addicted to their phones.
    Beautiful photos.

  13. Maura says:

    This is really sad but unfortunately the truth! That’s why I love Freeconvo so much! It’s about bringing back the Art of conversation!

  14. Guil says:

    Oddly enough, it became as socially accepted as sneezing or coughing.

    People used to excuse themselves before answering a call or replying to a text or email, but most no longer bother.

    I do believe that people in their early 20s and younger don’t really draw the same line as their older peers do, they see a conversation “in real life” and a conversation online as if both were taking place in the exact same location.

    Anyway, great job. Let’s hope that the likes of virtual reality, augmented reality and social media don’t turn us all into physically lonely creatures.

    • admin says:

      Hi Guil, I think you’re right, the younger generation do not prioritise those in front of them compared to their virtual connections, they either see them as equal interactions or they seem to even favour the digital ones. This all a new phenomena so if it carries on it will undoubtedly get worse to the extent that eventually people won’t want to communicate unless its via a device. A brave new world indeed…cheers bcr

  15. Douglas says:

    Good photos. As I’ve seen this out in public more and more lately, I have had a very strong reaction to it. It bugs me to no end. I started wondering why it bothers ME so much. And I think the answer is because I have a friend who does this to me….constantly checking his phone when we’re out doing stuff. It hurts my feelings. And so when I see others doing this out in public, it provokes a strong reaction in me. It hurts.

    • admin says:

      hi douglas, thanks for leaving your comment…I have read many comments of a similar nature in relation to are definitely not alone..when someone prioritises their phone over the person they are with it is a form of rejection and just plain rude. Unless its an emergency (which it never is) its never really called for. People must learn to leave it alone…or else their relationships will ultimately suffer…

  16. Alex says:

    Really, really good and v jealous. Would love to see more.

  17. KLF says:

    Hallelujah!!! Somebody did have to say it!! Burn the smartphone!! Burn them! burn them! burn them!!

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