The joining of people to devices has been rapid and unalterable. The application of the personal device in daily life has made tasks take less time. Far away places and people feel closer than ever before. Despite the obvious benefits that these advances in technology have contributed to society, the social and physical implications are slowly revealing themselves. In similar ways that photography transformed the lived experience into the photographable, performable, and reproducible experience, personal devices are shifting behaviors while simultaneously blending into the landscape by taking form as being one with the body. This phantom limb is used as a way of signaling busyness and unapproachability to strangers while existing as an addictive force that promotes the splitting of attention between those who are physically with you and those who are not.
The work began as I sat in a café’ one morning. This is what I wrote about my observation:
Family sitting next to me at Illium café in Troy, NY is so disconnected from one another. Not much talking. Father and two daughters have their own phones out. Mom doesn’t have one or chooses to leave it put away. She stares out the window, sad and alone in the company of her closest family. Dad looks up every so often to announce some obscure piece of info he found online. Twice he goes on about a large fish that was caught. No one replies. I am saddened by the use of technology for interaction in exchange for not interacting. This has never happened before and I doubt we have scratched the surface of the social impact of this new experience. Mom has her phone out now.
The image of that family, the mother’s face, the teenage girls’ and their father’s posture and focus on the palm of their own hands has been burned in my mind. It was 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. I see this family at the grocery store, in classrooms, on the side of the highway and in my own bed as I fall asleep next to my wife. We rest back to back on our sides coddling our small, cold, illuminated devices every night.
The large format portraits are of individuals who appear to be holding personal devices although the devices have been physically removed from the sitter’s hand. They are asked to hold their stare and posture as I remove their device and then I make the exposure. The photographs represent reenactments of scenes that I experience daily. We have learned to read the expression of the body while someone is consuming a device and when those signifiers are activated it is as if the device can be seen taking physical form without the object being present.
Eric Pickersgill is a full time artist, husband, and soon to be father working in North Carolina. He received a Master of Fine Arts degree at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2015. He was born in Homestead, Florida in 1986 and spent his teenage years in Charlotte, North Carolina. Eric received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in Fine Art Photography from Columbia College Chicago in 2011. Between 2011 and 2013 Eric taught high school in Charlotte, NC via Teach for America.
His passion for teaching and image making allows him to see the connections that the two share. The work Eric makes is often about photography as he explores the psychological and social effects that cameras and their artifacts have on individuals and societies as a whole. Eric has exhibited and presented his work internationally at institutions, galleries, and art fairs such as The North Carolina Museum of Art, Pantheon-Sorbonne University, The Ackland Art Museum, Rick Wester Fine Art, Pulse Art Fair Miami, AIPAD, and many more.
Eric Pickersgill, Do Our Devices Divide Us? at TEDxBend 2016
As I have worked through the past several months on forming the way I discuss my practice and specifically the photographic series Removed, I have come to a greater understanding of the psychological and sociological factors that are in play with this work. The term Behavior Lag expresses the concept of the time period between not knowing and then eventually learning the new ways in which technology is understood and more specifically how it is physically used.
An example of this can be found in the early adoption of amateur motion picture film users whose subjects found themselves posing still for the moving camera. The previously learned response to being in front of a camera was to hold very still and smile so that a single sharp frame could be exposed. The new technology allowed for motion and action to be recorded. After users saw themselves on film, they began to shift their performance to one that included movement and narrative. Posing still for a motion camera is just one example of Behavior Lag.
This concept can also work in reverse where the user has mastered the behavior of current technology however, when presented with outmoded but similar technology, the user employs a gesture, or application that does not result in the desired outcome from that technology. For example, a child who attempts to manipulate a screen with their direct contact of that screen however, the surface is not touch sensitive.
This concept also applies to shifting social behaviors and ethics since the rapid introduction of the smart phone and other personal devices. The perception and expectations of social engagement are being altered by the ability for users of this technology to connect with anyone anywhere. The dividing of attention between those who are physically near you and those who are not is widely debated. The Behavior Lag is present when using a device around other people or while driving or any other activity where one feels anxiety or guilt but yet still chooses to engage in the use of the technology. The ethics remain undetermined while humankind experiences this shift that is more widely adopted and in volumes unseen in human history.