In June 2019, the Facebook page “Archeology & Civilizations” shared the following image, purportedly of a sculpture in Amsterdam called “Addiction.”
On first glance, the image seemed to demonstrate the “what if phones but too much” meme, inspired by a 2015 article in The Toast satirizing the premises of Black Mirror episodes.
However, the most upvoted comment on the Reddit post indicated that original poster had left some context out of the image:
The sculpture was called ‘Absorbed by Light’. It was a light sculpture actually suggesting a way more nuanced idea about phone use. You could sit in between them, and in the cold darkness you and the sculptures would be illuminated.
Also, the bench was placed specifically for the sculpture, so don’t worry about people losing a place to sit, we actually gained one ;).
This comment about the title of the sculpture (“Absorbed by Light,” not “Addiction”) was correct. A page on the Amsterdam Light Festival’s page explains:
Three figures sit next to each other on a bench, displaying the typical characteristics of smartphone users: their heads are bent, fingers typing and swiping, and their faces lit up by their phone screens. While their bodies are physically present, their minds are elsewhere.
You can experience the way this effects others by taking a seat in between the figures of ‘Absorbed by Light’, designed by the British Gali May Lucas and executed by Berlin-based sculptor Karoline Hinz.
The phone and computer screens that, literally and figuratively, light up our lives are irresistable. We read new messages immediately and want easy access to our social media, useful apps, and browser. Our smartphones are with us all the time – in bed, on the toilet, in the train, at our desk. They are an extension of our contact with our families, friends, and even people on the other side of the world. And as a result, we engage ourselves more with the virtual and superficial reality than with each other and the real world around us, something Lucas makes painfully clear. Actively involving the audience in the ‘story’ is a recurring feature in the work of the British artist, who works in Amsterdam as a graphic designer.
Lucas said of her piece:
“Cycling to work in the mornings, I see people lost in the light of their mobile phones. On park benches, on the tram, in restaurants – no one talks to each other anymore. The white light and white noise is a bit eerie if you look at it in a certain way – and you’ll see this come through strongly in the final work[.]”
Although many people considered the work to be an indictment on technology and smartphone “addiction” in 2019, it wasn’t difficult to find vintage images of people in Amsterdam absorbed in newspapers in public — some of whom were also neglecting a view of the canal:
The decontextualized image shows a real sculpture temporarily installed in Amsterdam, but it is not called “Addiction,” but “Absorbed by Light.” Smartphones are inarguably present in public in 2019, but before their advent, books and newspapers were also read by people resting on public benches as they went from place to place or took breaks from work. The devices are new, but the behavior is not.