Sunday November 20, 2016
This app tells you to stop looking at it
Sometimes it can look a bit like an episode of The Walking Dead.
People shuffling down the streets, staring down vacantly, walking blindly out into traffic. They're staring at their phones, of course, tapping out messages to pals, choosing podcasts, listening to music. Our mobile devices are great ways to stay connected with our friends, but they do make it harder to connect with the people and places right around us.
Ekene Ijeoma is an artist and designer based in New York City. He couldn't help noticing how many of his fellow New Yorkers (and sometimes Ekene himself) walked through their exciting, vibrant city staring at their phones.
So he decided to do something about the problem. He made an app, so your phone could tell you to stop looking at your phone.
Look Up runs in the background as wallpaper on your phone. When you come up to an intersection, colourful eyeball animations pop up. Or, if you're in the middle of using an app, you get a "look up" notification. Either way, it's telling you to lift your head up from your phone, and look at the world around you.
"There's a lot of synergy at intersections, and I feel like it's an opportunity to sort of reconnect," Ijeoma says. "I don't think people will ever stop using their phones. I think it's just about creating spaces within the city where we sort of have...social etiquette around technology and what boundaries it has."
It's not just about looking up, though. Our smartphones are portals to friends and family who are not physically with us. This clearly has a lot of advantages, but it has real downsides for public space. "You go to a public space to access people. And now people are accessing people through their phones," he says. "They're accessing other people in other places through phones." Beyond that, because phones connect us to information whenever we want, they can make it harder to break the ice with strangers. "Why can't someone come into a coffee shop and just ask someone a question?" Ijeoma wonders. "Because now people think: you're not supposed to ask someone a question, because Google has all the answers."
Look Up is currently available for Android phones, and only for New York. An iOS app is coming soon.