The question is how often do you see people totally absorbed in their phone or other electronic device rather than looking at what is going on around them? They may be reading, texting, searching the internet, social messaging (in a zillion possible variants) or watching themselves though the phone and taking selfies in a place instead of experiencing it. In earlier work in IAP – Exercise 2.2 – Covert – I looked at just that, taking images of people who were more interested in their phones than what was going on around them – this was in spite of the fact that they were on the streets in the Edinburgh festival, and there was a lot going on to see.
My family have been known to comment that I am attached to my camera and only see things through the lens. Is this different? I once spent a long (7 hour) train journey taking pictures though the window every 30 minutes and at every stop (they are not very good photos). This did make me focus on what was happening outside. My normal habit would to have been to get out a book and hide from the world.
When I sit and think about it, many, (most?) people are attached to their electronic devices. I have been trying to reduce the use of them. To spend an evening unattached. To leave my phone behind. To use paper and pens to make notes. It is very hard. To be fair, they have been a godsend during Covid and the inability to get outside. I have used them to have conversations, to build up friendships, to see things that I cannot otherwise get to.
The problem with electronic devices is that while you can read or listen to music you do miss out on input from the other senses. They cannot (yet) let you smell things. You do not feel the wind. You do not touch the rusted rail to check out the texture. They are also extremely focused. If you are reading a real book, you feel the pages, but you are also more aware of the environment around you. If you are listening to live music you feel it on your skin, it vibrates though you, you see other people’s reactions.
Life is becoming more digital – yes, there are some advantages. Two days ago, I was on a zoom with someone in Canada. Today I have been looking at an exhibition in London. Tomorrow – who knows where I might be. But – it is equally important to live in the real world; to smell the roses, feel the rain, see the whole picture, the glances out of the corners of your eyes – not just the view though a phone lens. Concentrate on one thing at a time – if you are walking in the park – look at the flowers not your texts. If you are having a coffee – smell the aroma (then maybe read your book). Look at the world. Look a second time. Absorb it. Then maybe take your pictures.