When I saw Laura Morton’s ongoing project ‘Wild West Tech’ featured in this month’s addition of the BJP, the large glossy images of the lives of tech entrepreneurs spoke of large glossy loneliness and the central position of devices in the images reminded me of Eric Pickersgill’s ‘Removed’.
Where Morton captures the closed world which lives and breathes technology, Pickersgill interacts critically with how the tech boom plays out in the day to day. He uses staging to recreate contemporary life; showing people poised in the haze of online networking but with all devices removed. The result is, unsurprisingly, one of dissonance and estrangement.
Pickersgill’s project begun one morning while sitting in a cafe observing a family interacting with their screens rather than each other. He likened this experience to an awakening, ‘one of those moments where you see something so amazingly common that it startles you into consciousness of what’s actually happening and it is impossible to forget.’ In launching his project ‘Removed’ he invites his audience to share with him the unease he experienced that day.
The photographs which speak to me the loudest in ‘Removed’ are those which feature children because they raise questions of our future. The ‘noughties’ generation unlike those captured in ‘Wild West Tech’ were born into a world where familiarity with technology is an intrinsic part of growing up and this change sees family dynamics dramatically altered.
You only have to look around you next time you’re travelling to work to see distracted parents heavily preoccupied by their phones, no longer present enough to give their children social interaction, instead giving them ‘the next best thing,’ phones or tablets, as poor replacements for emotivity and interaction. My fear is that children growing up in an increasingly digitalised and data dominated world aren’t being taught the social skills needed to deal with life off the screen: and this in itself poses a wider concern for society’s direction.
In a world where population increases exponentially, bringing clashing cultures closer and closer together, what will it mean to rely on a digital crutch or ‘prosthetic limb’ (Pickersgill) which seems to only emotionally remove and separate us?
Social media is central to our fast paced lives and in the blur, online networking gives the illusion of freezing time; an opportunity to solidify our rushed lives into a permanent form on a Facebook page. I worry that this may become an escape route for unhappy lives and if used unproductively merely leads us to a dead end passage adorned with pictures of our ex’s holidays to Corfu, videos of a colleagues new baby or gif’s of somebody’s dog.
The questions raised by the work of Morton and Pickersgill are key to the envisioning of our future. While Morton’s images tell a story of a select driven community which forever push forward the digital revolution, Pickersgill shows the effect of this on the social stage and speaks of a generation more in tune with the screen than ‘the things which I consider to be real life’ (Morton). The lives that Morton captures seem to be set to become a universal norm. Somewhere between these two new worlds I find myself, both fully immersed in the digital world yet at the same time terrified of it.