Raise your hand if you’re reading this article on your smartphone. Mm hmm, that’s what I thought. And you know what? That’s not a bad thing! Smartphones have allowed us the luxury of getting our news, staying connected with friends and fulfilling our creative impulses while we’re riding the train, laying in bed and waiting in doctor’s offices.
The issues only begin to arise when our IRL relationships start to suffer and we begin to sacrifice quality time with loved ones for finishing a quest on Candy Crush. But that’s not news, is it? We all know it (we often just choose to ignore it). Lately, artists have been harnessing this potentially dangerous societal shift to create provocative, challenging and ultimately inspiring artwork.
In her series (Anti)Social Media, Chloe Sheppard explores the real – and frequent – feelings of distance and rejection we’ve all felt when we’re trying to communicate with someone face-to-face who won’t look up from their phone. Her models gaze silently toward their phones, eyes downcast, impervious to the viewer’s gaze directly in front of them. There’s an intimacy in the portraits that implies these women are doing more than just checking their phone between snapshots: they’re consciously disregarding the very real, very present person on the other side of the lens. it’s a subtly powerful statement that’s equal parts gorgeous and frustrating in its simplicity.
Last year, Banksy posted to Twitter this sketch; it turns the oft-repeated joke “my phone is basically an extension of my hand!” into a terrifying reality. Banksy’s brand of incisive, social-commentary art is particularly powerful here. In one quick sketch with very little compositional complexity, he has created an impactful reminder that we’re fast-approaching an age of complete, literal dependence on technology- with technology the one who’s in control. Banksy’s decision to make the arm a man’s arm clad in a traditional business suit drives the point home even further: those in charge are at the mercy of their phones..so where does the power lie?
20-year-old Chinese art student Lin Chenglin decided to poke fun at our collective phone obsession with his short animated film “Head-bowing life.” There’s an actual Chinese word for those of us hunched over our phones in public: “ditouzu” or “head-bowers” (thus the title). Li injected a healthy dose of self-aware humor into his cartoon, blaming everything from horribly mangled disaster relief efforts to major chemical explosions on smartphone distractions. The obvious exaggeration of the issue combined with the playful, sci-fi look of the short takes away any pedantic or preachy undertones. Instead, Li is in on the joke and it’s totally funny.
For a haunting, quiet take on the subject, photographer Eric Pickersgill put together a series of simple photographs of people looking at their phones, only he’s Photoshopped the phones out of the photograph so you’re left with people looking blankly at their open palms. A couple lay in bed, backs to one another, staring at their hands. A family of four congregates in a dining room, all within feet of one another, looking down toward their empty fingers. The photographs are isolating and sad, sure, but also serve as a wake-up call for the viewer. It’s hard not to become conscious of your own habits after looking at these depressing vignettes of missed connections.
The most violent and unsettling images of the group are definitely Max Geiger’s manipulated photographs of people’s faces being sucked into their phones. The series, entitled SUR-FAKE, captures real moments of the public’s preoccupation with their devices and then distorts them in grotesque ways so that the person’s face becomes violently fused with their phone. It’s a literal, shocking approach that is super disturbing. But hey, point taken, Geiger.