Caught in the App? Yes! It’s a social movement about healthy smartphone use. It’s a series of intimate portraits taken of the heads down society looking up. In this post I will look back and share my future plans. Please read it as an invitation to team up and/or help me in one way or another.
People nowadays live several lives in one. One in the physical world: on the streets, at tables, in bed. And many online – virtual and physical world related. Smartphones make it easy to travel permanently between all these worlds. To warp – so to say. Professor Sherry Turkle (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) calls this multi-living.
This multi-living is worrying. It makes us dis-mindful. Daily life consequences are obvious. Think about traffic accidents for instance. And who doesn’t recognise the feeling of not listening to your conversation partner – whilst being distracted by a phone – and making a clumsy decision?
Leading scientists like Sherry Turkle and Jean Twenge (San Diego State University) are even more worried about long term social effects. Heavy smartphone use is directly related to our levels of mindfulness, concentration, creativity, deep listening, deep reading, compassion, loss of identity, insomnia, obese, burnouts, intimacy, libido, loneliness, happiness, depression and Twenge even suspects a correlation between heavy smartphone use and plans and executions of suicide among youngsters of what she calls generation iGen.
People who are in another world than our physical world are not present in the here and now. They are tuned out. Their souls seem to have left their bodies – at least for a while. The empty glimpses in their eyes can be described as zombiesque. Technology has taken over their bodies, ripped out their souls. Or maybe they can be better described as real life cyborgs.
With my long term photography (series of) series #CaughtintheApp I am welcoming back people to their first – non-virtual – lives, reconnecting their souls to their bodies. The last year and a half I’ve spent time in public areas waiting for heads down people to walk into my camera. As soon as they sense my presence, they start to wake up and that’s my cue to press the shutter button. My intention is to bring them back into our world. Nothing more nothing less. No aggression. No judgement. They walk towards me, wake up, give me their glimpses, I thank them, we (usually) talk and they move on. Our interaction delivers me a portrait. The subjects – and the bystanders – receive a mirroring micro-performance.
After taking the picture I thank the people for sharing this moment with me and I ask them what they were using their phones for. Most of them thank me in return for pointing them at this awkward (addictive) habit and admit that they were just scrolling Whatsapp, Instagram, swiping Tinder, playing Candy Crush or one or another news site. Nothing urgent or important usually.
The addictiveness of the smartphone apps is the biggest source of our heavy use. And according to ex-Google designer Tristan Harris (and many others) the apps are just designed to be addictive. The Facebooks and Googles of our world just want their users to spend as much time on their platforms as possible. That’s how they make their short term and long term money. This makes smartphones and their software the heroin of our times.
I’m using my 35mm lens to create the intimacy in my portraits. The catching works easy: I choose my ‘hot zone’ in a more or less crowded area, make it my place and I just wait for people to get caught in the app. Most of the pictures were taken from a distance of less than three meters between me and the subject.
I submitted (a selection of) my series to the World Press Photo Awards. My three submissions are over here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ritzotencate/collections/72157691065454944/
A selection of earlier publications:
- Dutch national news paper Trouw: https://www.trouw.nl/samenleving/ritzo-ten-cate-fotografeert-telefoonzombies-mensen-die-net-even-opkijken-van-hun-smartphone~aa6299ba/.
- Dutch national television EenVandaag: https://eenvandaag.avrotros.nl/item/heeft-sillicon-valley-niet-teveel-macht/
- Dutch national NOS Mashup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wzL8te2IgU&
- Metro.UK: http://metro.co.uk/2017/12/06/photo-series-captures-just-engrossed-londoners-phones-7137590/
- Several editions of Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/haunting-photos-of-londoners-on-phones-reminds-us-not-to-be-glued-to-technology_uk_5a265e97e4b07324e8403b2d?utm_hp_ref=uk-wellbeing
Key sources of learnings about our smartphone use.
- Alone Together (Sherry Turkle, 2012): http://alonetogetherbook.com/
- Reclaiming Conversation: (Sherry Turkle, 2017) http://www.reclaimingconversationbook.com/
- ‘Has the smartphone destroyed a generation?’ (Jean M. Twenge, 2017): https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/
Future plans 2018
My aim for 2018 is to create a global social movement on smartphone addiction and healthy use from a number of thought leaders and change makers.
During this year I will continue my zombie-series in at least four metropoles like New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and Beijing and I will expand to a side-sub-series on parents, their smartphones (and their children) which I already started with. During this year I will deepen out the theme, I will expand my relationships with global thought leaders and change makers like professor Sherry Turkle (MIT), professor Jean Twenge (San Diego State) Nancy Colier (Psychology Today, Huffington Post) and I will invest in relationships people like Tristan Harris (Time Well Spent), Arianna Huffington (Thrive, founder Huffington Post) and photographing colleague Eric Pickersgill. My ambition is to arrange a global gathering to start up this global social movement.
With my photography I will cover four metropoles. In each city I will do my own photographing, I will cooperate with local social researchers to interpret my work, I will gather a swarm of young talented people to join out movement, I will co-organize street photography masterclasses with local or regional art platforms to expand the reach of my concept, I will team up with libraries or community centers to give public lectures and I will share my visual stories with national and international media.
As an experienced social engineer / serial entrepreneur my focus is value creation with deep, measurable impact, not just shooting pictures, creating a photo book or having an exhibition. Those are just – possibly very valuable – instruments to create impact. And instruments follow impact. Deep impact follows flow. And flow needs freedom to move.