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 www.boredpanda.com 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!