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A still from film Look Up
A still from the short viral video Look Up, a film that asks the viewer to reassess their smartphone use

Anti-smartphone art needs to give us a break

I cannot deal with these artworks pushing the concept that nobody really talks to or likes each other anymore, cause like, iPhones

There is no sin worse in life than being boring – smartphone owner Paris Hilton.

Nobody really talks to each other anymore. Nobody really loves each other anymore. This new, smartphone-obsessed world is "strange and lonely". This is the overarching message pushed by a new breed of artists who are keen for you to comprehend the lofty concept that looking at your phone is A Really Bad Thing. Of course, the world by its very nature has always been strange and lonely. No-one knows how we got here or how long we have left. Indeed, I’d wager that it was a great deal "stranger and lonelier" in 10,000BC, hunting sabre toothed tigers and wearing their skin after eating them, drawing terribly on caves to make sure anyone knew you were ever even there.

Fast forward considerably to 2015AD, our hunter-gatherer instincts diminished, you’ll no doubt have noticed that civilisation has invented a pocket-sized device (you may even own one) that holds all the information we’ve ever wanted, instant access to everyone we know, a camera, every song we love. Naturally, everyone wants to look at these incredible things a lot. But every movement has its opponents and not everyone is enamoured by the smartphone revolution. Like the arty cavemen marking their legacy through paintings, some people in today’s culture are making art with a message: the message is that smartphones are bad and we’re all idiots for spending so much time looking at them, failing to ignore the true beauty of what’s happening around us.

Here’s an example of anti-smartphone art. It depicts a group of people on a museum trip. All of them appear disinterested by the art around them, art in gilded frames, art messily assembled on a jumbled wall display, art from a completely different era that will have no bearing on any of their lives. The people are not looking at the art, not appreciating the beauty inside the crowded museum, but instead for some reason they’re looking at their smartphones, possibly playing games or listening to music. The artist, Antoine Geiger, has digitally manipulated the image so that the people’s faces are being sucked into the screens. The message is clear – no-one is paying attention to anything. It’s 2015 and we suck now.

You remember this one, right? Of course you do, it went viral. This is US photographer Eric Pickersgill’s series of photographs called Removed, photos of human beings with the smartphones edited out, which shows us people staring at their hands like braindead, hallucinating maniacs. Of course, any picture of me eating at a restaurant with all the food edited out would be equally as strange and might lead people to ask, "hey what’s up with this photograph of a guy pretending to eat?" Pickersgill is suggesting that we don’t talk to each other enough but while I type this I am talking to six people at once on my smartphone and it’s pretty fun.

Next up, this piece of work that I believe is called Phone Slaves. It’s by an artist who used to work in advertising and clearly became somewhat jaded by his surroundings. This piece depicts an army of people, their skin grey and withered, their clothes tatty and ruined, their eyes just black holes. Hunched over, the people march through what could be an apocalypse, all staring at their iPhones. The message is clear: we’re zombies now and even if the world was ending we’d all be checking Twitter or hitting Tinder to see if there are any other eyeless freaks up for one last fuck.

Short viral video Look Up, dealing with our obsessive smartphone use, has been viewed 54 million times and presumably many of those viewers checked it out on a smartphone. Anyway, filmmaker Gary Turk doesn’t want us to stop using smartphones altogether but find a balance, something which will be hard to do because everybody on this strange, lonely planet is unique and the meaning of balance differs from person to person. Some people seek solace in social media and smartphones because they lack the confidence to communicate IRL. Social media, as Dounia Tazi wrote, offers some communities underrepresented by mainstream media the chance to be heard.

But at one point in this film, Turk bizarrely attempts to elevate certain behaviours beyond others when he says: "let me just emphasise, that if you read a book, paint a picture or do some exercise, you’re being productive and present, not reserved and recluse, you’re being awake and attentive and putting your time to good use". So he’s suggesting that if I totally blank someone on account of the thing that I’m reading is made of paper, not glass and plastic, then that’s totally cool.

"I can’t stand to hear the silence of a busy commuter train," says Turk, lamenting the presence of smartphone-addled passengers as if fifty years ago it was an absolute rave and we weren’t staring out of the train window like crash test dummies contemplating how strange and lonely everything is. There’s something limply arrogant about the messaging behind this kind of art, a defiantly Ludditey suggestion that technology has ruined love, sex and conversation and the world used to be better before we were even alive. Which might actually be true.