Alone in the Crowd

Life in congested urban spaces can be overwhelming and isolating. It’s tempting for people to seek the comfort of familiar communities, now conveniently available in our smartphones. We explored a new form of communication, focusing on the image human desire for connection & barriers to public interaction.

As life in congested, chaotic urban centers becomes the norm, more people are spending their days in places and amid people to whom they bear no discernible relationship. Faced with impersonal landscapes and the anonymity of crowds, it is tempting to fall back on the comfort of familiar communities, now conveniently portable within our smartphones. Anthropologist Amber Case (2015) comments that “the phone itself has more relation, history and identity to you than an airport, for instance, or a highway. So you often find people using their phones in these kind of inhuman places in order to get back some of that humanity that's been put on pause.”

While reaching out to virtual stand-ins can give us a quick boost of connection, it also drains our attention away from physically present people and surroundings. In the long run, over-reliance on virtual communities may actually lead to a greater sense of alienation and loneliness: the anxious, paradoxical state that Sherry Turkle (2012) calls being “alone together”

We presented the Smile Project at the 2016 Design & Emotion in Amsterdam Conference