Remember when you and your friends decided — face-to-face or over a landline telephone — to meet up somewhere and you would just show up? If you didn’t know where the place was, you shared coordinates and landmarks, then found your way via chicken scratch notes. Maaaybe you’d stop and ask for directions. If someone was late, you waited. If someone didn’t show up, well, that was okay too. You’d turn the radio dial to whichever station didn’t have commercials and you’d drive, often with detours, to your destination.
You never checked Google Maps to see if you were on the right route. You didn’t text to ask for friends’ status updates. There was no such thing as a playlist on your iPhone.
Now We’re Cyborgs
Most folks under 30 will never know what it was like before our mobile technology dependency.
Which is probably why a lot of folks in general are wrestling with this new way of life. It’s a frequent conversation among friends, even with my not-so-tech-forward pals. How do we balance our love for and reliance on these new devices with real-world, meaningful experiences? (NPR’s TED Radio Hour just published the first of an in-depth, two-part series, “Screen Time,” that explores this very topic.)
What I’m really worried about is that people aren’t taking time for mental reflection anymore. And that they aren’t slowing down and stopping being around all those people in the room all the time that are trying to compete for their attention…They’re not just sitting there.
And, really, when you have no external input, that is the time when there’s a creation of self…when you can try and figure out who you really are. And then, once you do that, you can figure out how to present your second self in a legitimate way instead of just dealing with everything as it comes in and — oh, I have to do this and I have to do this and I have to do this….
Digital detox. That’s the solution.
The New York Times, Forbes and Wired (ha!) all have reports and recipes for disconnecting. HuffPo has a glut of articles on unplugging. Our constant companionship with tiny screens is even creeping into the music I like.
So it would follow that more and more artists — especially editorial illustrators — are tackling the topic. Lately, I’ve found myself the subject of a meta comedy, scrolling through Instagram and seeing these:
This is the world in which playwright and performer Dan Hoyle resides. His latest play, Each and Every Thing at Portland Center Stage, harnesses the digital detox zeitgeist as he struggles with his sense of self and spirituality.
Though our little devices allow access to worlds beyond our imaginations, it’s the tangible world that feels out of reach. Hoyle’s journey to find connection and community takes him to India Coffee House in Kolkata — famous for its adda sessions (hanging out for long chats), and as the breeding grounds of several political and cultural movements. It’s there that Hoyle finds balance, lifts the barriers of digital life and is able to be present in the moment.
Setting the Screen
With a topic this familiar, the challenge becomes presentation. If the conflict is we look at our screens too much, what’s the most effective depiction? Is the image viewed in the first person? Third person?
As Case explains, when we are put on pause — in the check-out line, at an airport, on the subway, even just walking — we reach for our mobile devices to connect to humanity. I observed this everywhere, and attempted to temper my own behavior. I found myself too often sitting in the park and looking at my phone instead of soaking up the scene. And then…
A friend and I were walking through Greenwich Village. It was his first time in New York and he was looking down at Google Maps the whole time — I had to convince him to put the phone away and look up, look up, look up!
The idea for the first thumbnail — and ultimately the final art — was conceived in that moment: a beautiful world blocked by your dumb, giant, intrusive, grey, needy screen.
Style-wise, my aim was to abstract the forms and put distance between the viewer and reality. Plus, as any disciple of Charley Harper will tell you, drawing in minimal realism is a lot of fun! (The other thumbnails were attempts to showcase the myriad characters Hoyle plays.)
Another play, another poster in the bucket. I’d write more, but it’s time to power down the screen and go outside.
For more on Michael Buchino, visit buchino.net.