Strolling on my phone- A take on experiencing the world through a screen as a designer
Write-up and Illustrations by Nirmohi Kathrecha
The young architect who graduated in the pandemic started her first job as work-from-home. This pushed her to question how she was perceiving the world through the screen and what that meant for her as a budding designer.
While choosing a favourable spot for sitting in the living room, one of the parameters that is quite relevant for me is how close I am to a plug point. The habit of “plugging” myself in and out of the virtual world has escalated especially during the pandemic. There are virtual counterparts of all the activities that took place regularly, a constant urge to ‘archive’ the daily activities and experiences. For example, travel, for leisure and work has always been a fun, messy ride and now it is a smooth transition reel of thirty seconds with pleasant music in the background, quick to consume. While waking up and checking my phone is a ritual every morning – to get updates about the world, work, friends and family, I get more conscious of how much time I spend staring and consuming information off the screen. How does one define screen time?
My screen time is a virtual counterpart of logging into work, reading my newspaper and magazines, petting a dog, watching a comedy show, meeting my friends, shopping and other countless things. Does it still qualify as something exclusive of living in a world that is slowly turning virtual?
Within this loop, there are multiple visuals that I consume without any intention. Time and space start collapsing on the feed, like a story that millions of people are writing and experiencing without any definite start or end. And as algorithms come into the picture, our collective experiences are streamlined. There is a common pool of visuals that stays with us for a longer time and guides how we perceive our experiences.
Historically, to avoid forgetting our spaces and experiences we have documented them through drawings, writings, stories and eventually photographs. However, the wave of photo documentation and the abundance in which we consume it makes it difficult for us to distinguish between the experiences and the ‘framed’ experiences. Every few weeks I am reminded of memories that I did not remember. While it is nostalgic, over time, I start equating all the experiences through photographs. If it’s not on my phone, did it even happen?
As a designer, I see that there are multiple repercussions of this in the way in which one starts producing space. While the feed is a fun place, full of juxtapositions and
contradictions of moving from the picture of the sunset to a cat scratching itself while on the bed, it is also a place where one needs to spend more than a glance to understand the contexts. It feels like one is inhabiting a room at a time, it creates a universe within itself, eventually trickling into how we imagine the spaces we design. There are two sides to the coin, the feed allows one to weave multiple stories with the constant shift in perspectives (literally and metaphorically). One gets to inhabit and appropriate the spaces that they might never visit, by the “reading” of images. There is also a sense of authority and the fun of storytelling of one’s own space while contributing to the feed by posting one’s experiences. The flip side is that one gets drawn to experience a space physically so that it can have a virtual presence. And this shapes a lot of “instagrammable” designing.
The fetishization of an aesthetic creates a loop where one consumes what is designed and designs what is consumed. While as designers we have always drawn inspiration from the visuals we saw, those were guided by the people, nature, contexts, these are born out of hashtags that are streamlined and more exotic versions of all of those experiences.
While I am fully immersed in the current scenario, I looked at my feed thrice while writing this article, there is also a constant lingering question of how it is making us evolve as designers.