We've all done it: blanked out the world around us to stare at the beguiling screen of our mobile phone.
The photographer Eric Pickersgill has captured what this means for our personal lives in a series of disconcerting images. The project is called Removed, because Pickersgill physically removes the phones from his subjects' hands, but asks them to hold their posture and focus.
The idea was prompted by a commonplace visit to a café, which Pickersgill wrote about as follows:
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.
Pickersgill is not set on demonizing the smartphone, but drawing attention to the way it can erode our relationships if we're not aware of our habits.
"I think there are many reasons to use our devices and I certainly have a professional relationship with mine. I also do not want to pass judgment on people who may be using a device to look up a popular coffee shop or perhaps checking in to let their loved one know that they made it to a destination safely. When I made the series it was a response to realizing how quickly my own habits had shifted and how much my wife and I were on our phones which was not the case when we first started dating," he explained, by email.
"The work has drastically changed my relationship to my phone," the photographer added. "Especially as a new father, because I do not want to normalize constant screen time for my young son. I am very strict about not bringing it to bed at night and I am purposeful about not going to it when I find myself between tasks or waiting for something. Those times when we let our mind wander are when the most brilliant ideas come to us. When we fill the empty time with more distraction, we never truly spend time with our thoughts or with ourselves. That time of reflection and meditation is priceless. It can often afford us the clarity to make decisions that really change our lives for the better."
A Deloitte study found that Americans check their phones on average 46 times per day, while more than half of the world’s population now uses a smartphone.
In Asia, the mobile phone has exploded onto the scene. ASEAN is one of the fastest-growing emerging smartphone markets, with people on average spending 3.6 hours on the mobile internet every day.
These images are from a special series of Removed, commissioned by the World Economic Forum as part of our ASEAN 2018 summit which is taking place in Ha Noi, Viet Nam from September 11-13.
Pickersgill travelled to four cities in the region ‒ Ha Noi, Yangon, Singapore and Jakarta ‒ where he was hosted by members of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community.
The images may capture different settings, but the expressions are strikingly familiar.