Eyeballs are worth serious €€€ these days.
This project is an act of me leaving anonymous notes on the Helsinki metro trains. My note asks riders to look at the environment around themselves and reflect on our mobile device practices. If we are all looking down, who is left looking up? Who is observing, noticing and caring for our shared public environment? For me, looking up means practicing curiosity towards fellow transit-goers, strangers and neighbours - who are around us, behind us, and directly in front of us.
Initially, I acted discreetly. I was afraid that someone might see me leaving the notes or acting abnormal and suspicious. I wondered if my intervention was illegal. I sat on my note, until I got up and left the train, leaving my note behind on my seat for someone to notice.
After a couple months, I gained more confidence in what I was doing. I wanted to observe people reading my notes. And so I set out in a new direction. I began to tuck my note into the train window and move myself to the seat directly behind. I continued this process until my notes were in almost every window on the train. Doing this gave me an observation point to watch people interact with my notes without them knowing I was the distributor.
Once I watched a man attend to my note in his hands, flipping it over, looking closely, re-reading it and then placing it back on the window for someone else to find. A lot of people will stare intensely at my note but don't touch it. The majority never look up from their mobile devices to notice anything out of the ordinary.
Helsinki is a small city with only one metro line. I suspect that a lot of my notes remain on the trains until the end of the day when the cleaner finds them. I wonder if the cleaner finds my action annoying or amusing. How many of my notes end up in the recycling bin?
On the metro platform, I observe people walking around with their heads bowed down to their screens. They walk slowly as if in a contemplative prayer. They stand still as if deactivated. Subconsciously, they allocate some attention to their peripheral surroundings so they don't bump into one another, or fall off the edge of the platform. I realized that don’t want to sweep my fellow commuters into my periphery. I want to see who I live with.
I observed a child take a puppy filter selfie and snapchat it. Since she was already so young, like 6 or 7, smooth-faced and big-eyed - the filter didn't really change her appearance. I was triggered and disturbed by this kid and her selfie. One day she won’t look like a baby puppy anymore.
Observing families on the metro is often particularly distressing for me. I witness families ignoring each other's presence because they are absorbed in their own screens. I idolize my pre-mobile-phone childhood, where I didn't compete with a mobile device for my family's attention.
I can stare and document other people on the metro in a way that would make them feel uncomfortable if they looked up and noticed. I also use this opportunity to examine an other's fingernails, observe the way they fold their legs or how wrinkles form in different places around the eye. Despite me feeling like a creep/outsider, I learn alot from doing this. When boredom comes, this is what I like to do.
Fieldnotes are a method of description cultural anthropologists use to describe things that occur while observing phenomena.
This project aims to highlight a common practice many of us engage in, scrolling through our mobile devices on the metro, deeply absorbed into 12 x 6 cm of screen pixels. My notes are a way for me to share my critical observation of our behaviour, to reach people and to give them a moment to think. Which feed were they following when they found me?
Both fieldnotes and snapshots were made from a personal perspective.