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Photos with cell phones removed send wrong message about technology

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The other day I took a 15 minute Facebook break mid-work as I usually do when I need to stop writing and let my mind wander. (You know what I mean, you do it to!)

Appearing on my social feed was a CNN article that featured the photographic work of Eric Pickersgill, a collection he calls, “Removed”. Here is some of what I saw:

photo1 photo2 photo4

These photos caught my attention for three reasons:

  1. They are beautiful to look at.
  2. They make a social commentary on how technology – mobile phones specifically – are (purportedly) taking the humanity out of relationships.
  3. They suggest people are spending more time in front of their phones and computer screens versus connecting with the human beings in front of them.

The CNN article shares what prompted the creation of this project: “Pickersgill thought about how mobile phones and the wealth of information they provide might be making us socially impoverished, and even causing medical issues like sleep disturbance”.

It further points out that Pickersgill, “hopes the takeaway is that we pause to consider how much time we’re unnecessarily using our phones when we could be interacting with each other.”

I get the point he is making. And to some extend I agree. Technology can be addictive. And, it can get in the way of sleep and relationships.

In those cases, it’s up to the user to control themselves. Ultimately, it’s part of their own personal health conversation. People need to manage the use of technology in their life and use it only as a tool to increase performance. Boundaries do need to be set.

But, my concern about these photos is that people will get the wrong idea. They’ll look at them and they’ll see technology or mobile devices, as “bad” or “wrong” in some way. They’ll blame technology for driving humans apart; that technology is disrupting community and unity or human connection, and that we should try and avoid it even if we don’t want to.  

This approach pits technology and humans against each other, at opposite ends of the spectrum. Man vs. machine. One is cold and metallic and not a conscious being. The other is naturally derived. But that gap is closing. In fact it never really existed.

The truth is that humans created technology as an extension of themselves. Technology helps us live our lives on a daily basis and in brilliant ways. It helps us go beyond our physical limitations. Many of our devices have become invisible to us because they’ve become organically woven into our lives. The houses we live in. The laundry machines we wash our clothes in. The clothes we wear. All technologies that have made our lives better.

It’s now normal to go to sleep next to your mobile phone; to grab your cup of coffee and check your email before you do anything else each day, or to walk onto a subway and see people looking into their mobile phones instead of chatting with each other.

But let’s not make it wrong. Denying technology is to not accept what’s real and happening. We’re noticing the invasive nature of technology, because we’re phasing into a new era where new and amazing technology is ubiquitous. It’s being suddenly noticed now because the new tech-enabled era is intersecting with the previous era. Let’s face it, the baby boomers grew up without much of the technology that is all around us and their children are armed with it. The boomers are the bridge generation.

Mobile phones are here and our lives look different as a result. It’s not bad. It’s not good. It simply is what it is. Don’t use them less, unless they are getting in the way of your life.

It’s likely they are actually improving your relationships. Mobile devices have brought our global community together. Here is what I see when I look at Pickersgill’s photos with the phones back in:
pic2pic3pic1

Here’s what we can take from Pickersgill’s photos: “The times. they are a’ changing”. It’s not good or bad, it just “is what it is”.
Accept it. Be in charge of how technology works in your life. And use technology to be a better version of you.

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