How POC Creatives Are Managing Their Relationship With Technology.

Every generation experiences a moment where it’s forced to sit with a new aspect of technology that temporarily calls everything that once existed into question. I know, for example, that my parent’s generation who became young adults in the 70s and 80s, felt this way about TV and computers. It was as if screens were taking over—multidimensional objects that offered viewers a lens into multidimensional spaces, providing new ways to connect, forever transforming the worlds of entertainment and communication. Those who had grown up without the presence of screens probably felt the effects of the new technology more than anyone else. 

This is how I feel in the age of handheld devices.

It’s almost like I can’t remember what my life was like prior to having a smartphone, even though it’s been present in my life for less than a decade.

And as someone who is lucky enough to experience very targeted anxiety about certain behaviors, aspects of my health, and the unknown, I find that recently, my phone-related anxiety has skyrocketed. There was actually a period of time a few weeks ago, prior to starting a new job, where I felt like I was completely out of control with how I engaged with my phone. As a freelancer, the times when work is slow can lead to hours of life that are wasted on Instagram, not even engaging, just mindlessly moving from visual to visual. I can’t tell you anything specific about anyone I see in those moments—I don’t recall anything. It’s like I blackout. I can’t even remember what some of my friends post about, immediately after viewing their stories. I am a person who practices mindfulness in almost every aspect of my life, but I struggle with it in such a real way when it comes to my phone usage. I go from days like today, where I intentionally leave my phone at home so I can focus on writing and being present with my loved ones, to complete opposite days where I wake up with the unconscious desire to immediately numb my mind. My relationship with my device is rather extreme, in that regard.

This frustration often ends up dictating the types of conversations I have with my friends, and how I choose to engage on Twitter, the only social media platform I feel at all connected with. Perhaps it’s because it’s mostly about words, a type of communication that appeals to me and makes the most sense, as someone who writes for a living. I learn a lot about humanity from Twitter, good and bad, and as a poet, it’s often fun for me to think of my tweets as short thoughtful poems.

One amazing thing about my phone and today’s handheld technology is how it allows me to connect with and learn from people I respect. When I decided to write this piece, I thought it might be useful to use it as space to honestly express my struggle, to let this experience live on a publication in permanence. I took to Twitter, hoping I could gain insights from people in my community. What you’ll find in the slideshow that follows this, are responses to a set of questions from four POC, with four unique perspectives. I was especially interested in learning the perspectives of POC because I find so much inspiration and intelligence in our community, that doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. Their answers have already had a profound impact on how I view and engage with my own technology. I’ve read so many stories about technology addiction, about the act of rebellion that is doing nothing—while they’ve inspired me and taught me a lot, I find more value in having honest conversations about the things that challenge us most.


Aundre Larrow, Visual Artist

@aundrelarrow

Q. What is your daily average screen time (via the screen report on your phone)?

6 hours 

2. How do you feel about your usage? Is it something you are actively working on or something you feel is out of your hands?

Lol I’m embarrassed by it. Am I THAT addicted to it?

Then after that initial frustration, I realize that I do actually work on my phone quite frequently. I try to send emails that don’t require long responses from my phone to avoid opening my computer where all the intense work (editing, making selects, uploads, contracts etc) resides.

It’s not out of my hands but I do feel that I am the only person responsible for me. Knowing I don’t have a safety net makes me kinda view everyone as a tool to grow my business. And then in between I just use twitter to try and laugh and connect with the homies in faraway places (which, if we are being honest even people in NY feel far sometimes).

So yeah, it’s not great. But I do feel a sense of like, this is what I do. I live digitally so I can’t be surprised at this number.

3. Do you have any boundaries in place with how frequently you engage with your technology? If yes, please name them and explain how they came to be.

I appreciate that my phone is dying — I use my phone’s natural cycle of needing to be charged as a way to say, “okay, enough”—at that point, if I have work to do, I try to move it to my laptop. To be clear, this is a rule I have when I have a new phone. If the battery sucks, I don’t charge it after I’m home from a long day. But while the day is going it’s fine to charge.

This just came from trying to figure out when enough was enough for me

I also charge my phone in a different room. I actually got this habit from Russell Brand the comedian, he said it in a video while describing how addicted we are to our phones. I mean he’s right, we are, because it’s how we communicate. We want to communicate but we have to not drown in it.

I try to be intentional about what and why I am opening apps. If I catch myself opening just to scroll I try to stop myself. This started years ago back when I used Facebook way too much. I would get anxiety late at night and would scroll to figure out what everyone was up to because I was bored/looking for a connection. So I asked myself, even if it was bogus, to come up with a reason to actually open apps. Like it could be something small like, to see someone’s photograph that inspired me a few months ago, or share an article I found interesting.

4. The impetus is really on tech users to engage mindfully, but what if technology were equally invested in making sure you were using your phone/tablet/tech object for its intended purpose, and nothing else? If you could build something like this, what would it look like?

It would look like creating a command and response system more tailored toward what we are looking for. A better-built system focused around particular use cases for socialization. Maybe it would be like old stereomood, where you identify what you need.

Also, it would be helpful to have a way to more easily share things in micro-groups across apps. Like close friends but across the rest of the internet in an organized way.

5. What are some apps/products related to your most used tech that you’re a fan of? Why are they important or special to you?

Honestly, I love Twitter. It misses the pomp and frill of Instagram and is less dumb than Facebook. I also really like playing fantasy sports, it’s the easiest way to have a small micro-community based on a current event. It’s both useless and lovely.


Alex Wolf, Entrepreneur, Technologist & Artist

@alexwolfco

1. What is your daily average screen time (via the screen report on your phone)?

24 hours

2. How do you feel about your usage? Is it something you are actively working on or something you feel is out of your hands?

What a great question, it’s only figuratively “out of my hands”  because it’s so physically in my hands. LOL.

3. Do you have any boundaries in place with how frequently you engage with your technology? If yes, please name them and explain how they came to be.

All this talk about boundaries in tech is nothing but an entertaining illusion. Our definition of “technology” is so crude and narrow, it imprints a false image on the brain that illustrates tech only as electronics or apps. This, in my opinion, is our biggest disadvantage…because it makes us ask all the wrong questions. Technology is ANY modification of nature. A spoon is technology. The needles that threaded the clothes you’re wearing is technology. Humans need tech as much as we need food. In fact we would not have food if we hadn’t shaved stones into spears and tamed land into farms (all examples of technology). Tech is the expression of man and the universe co-creating together to make life go on. It is the cousin of art and it exists beyond a market and beyond fucking Instagram. It’s only when we start to conceptualize technology for its vastness that we’ll begin to ask the questions that give us healthier, more human-friendly tech and not just ad farms that create asset bubbles and de-stabilize the economy.

4. The impetus is really on tech users to engage mindfully, but what if technology were equally invested in making sure you were using your phone/tablet/object for its intended purpose, and nothing else? If you could build something like this, what would it look like?

But why? That’s the fun part. Technology always has unintended and unpredictable consequences. That’s how we should know it’s alive. I think the most entertaining part about watching people design tech is that with every problem we think we’re solving for the universe, we only learn how prolific and boundless it is. Instead of being humbled by that, we strive even harder to buckle earth down into submission as if it were a horse. It doesn’t occur to most people that maybe the intelligence of the universe, the same intelligence that made us, might be superior to our own.

5. What are some apps/products related to your most-used tech that you’re a fan of? Why are they important or special to you?

I’m a Polaroid, Snap & Steve-Jobs-era Apple girl which means I think the funniest tech is the tech that prioritizes self-expression. Technology that is sensitive to my humanity and takes contextual environments into consideration. It doesn’t matter what era you’re in, a Polaroid, an iPod and sharing disappearing photos with your friends will always be rich experiences because they were designed for humans first and markets second. 


James T. Green, Audio Documentarian & Artist

@_jamestgreen

1. What is your daily average screen time (via the screen report on your phone)?

As of October 23rd at 3:16pm, my daily average is 10h and 51m.

2. How do you feel about your usage? Is it something you are actively working on or something you feel is out of your hands?

Looking at most used applications, which are “Notes,” “Safari,” and “Google Drive,” I feel good about how I use my devices. I see them more as tools in my arsenal rather than time-suck entertainment devices.

3. Do you have any boundaries in place with how frequently you engage with your technology? If yes, please name them and explain how they came to be.

The thing about our devices is they’ve now evolved into these large-screened, unadorned, rectangular slabs of varying sizes that give the illusion to be whatever they can be thanks to software. While that’s great for consolidation and convenience, the cognitive effort of our brains interpreting its use is interesting. For example, I imagine what’s going on in our brain when it’s trying to interpret that this metal and glass slab as a subway map when minutes ago it was an anxiety stream informing me of the latest political scandal. Whenever I pick up any of my devices, whether they’re tablets or phones, I’ve created a boundary with a question: “Whatis the task that I want to achieve with this object” rather than picking it up and letting the algorithm or (dis)comfort direct me to the application or notification that leads to the point of least resistance. It’s a form of mindfulness that takes time, but one that has yielded positive results  with the technology around me. If I want to play a video game, watch TikTok, work on a zine, or continue editing a short, I’m making these decisions with intention.

4. The impetus is really on tech users to engage mindfully, but what if technology were equally invested in making sure you were using your phone/tablet/object for its intended purpose, and nothing else? If you could build something like this, what would it look like?

While many of these intentions such as Apple’s “Screen Time” application seem to be rooted in good, many of them still feel to be infantile. It’s the whole “hide the cookie jar on the top shelf so I don’t eat them for dinner” versus mindfully considering that my body will feel better after eating vegetables for dinner. 

A proposal: software that both knows what applications need to be open in concert with one another to trigger tasks at hand and is more aware of context and environment. 

If your devices know that I like to write at 6am, they should have my writing app and a Safari window loaded and ready to lighten the cognitive load for my un-caffeinated and vulnerable state. Also, I’m not certain if blocking software is the solution, but guiding suggestions might be the answer for the sake of education. In a classroom, a professor that guides you to the answer versus doing it for you, usually leads to a more healthy learning environment. For example, if machine learning realized that I spent 4 hours last night watching TikTok videos and this occurrence trailed past my usual bedtime as learned by what time my device is usually placed on my charger and my smartwatch’s heart rate, the next evening a notification might pop up saying “Hey, it looks like you stayed up longer than your usual bedtime, and you were in an entertainment app, and the screen didn’t go dark, is this something you want to do again this evening? If so, your sleep the next morning may suffer.” While still a device owned by a giant technology company, the tools mimic those that are meant to support a better lifestyle, versus blanket blocking and triggering feelings of internalized shame.

What are some apps/products related to your most-used tech that you’re a fan of? Why are they important or special to you?

I’ve been very interested in finding ways to allow for less idle fiddling with my technology, and over the last three years, I’ve been transitioning my working environment from a macOS workflow to a full iOS workflow. Having a lack of window management and a computing platform that is performed using direct manipulation has led to less of a cognitive load placed on my tasks at hand.


Sabrina Hall, Interactive Art Director at Scholastic Digital

@sabrinahallnyc

1. What is your daily average screen time (via the screen report on your phone)?

Gah, ok, so I did not know this was a thing, and had mine off. If I had to honestly guess I would say at least 5 hours a day.

2. How do you feel about your usage? Is it something you are actively working on or something you feel is out of your hands?

Neither. I ebb and flow with my usage. When I have a lot of work going on personally and professionally I find that I am on my phone less because of the need to focus. However there are times I stall on my phone too. I feel like my usage will also depend on my mood, if I am feeling like I just want to relax a bit and not engage, I may scroll through Instagram, or if I want to engage and gain insights I may be chatting on slack or Twitter.

3. Do you have any boundaries in place with how frequently you engage with your technology? If yes, please name them and explain how they came to be.

Yes! I had to establish these because I realized I was on my phone too much and not being present. My phone is my alarm, but I do not check email until I begin my commute (which is over an hour). Additionally, I only engage on my phone during work hours for immediate texting which is important for me to keep in touch with friends or family. Other boundaries I have set are phone down and away during dinner time as it was a habit from a young age that carried over with me. Communal eating with my husband, friends, or family is really important and a time to be engaged. Also, I try my best to not look at the phone once I lay down for bed—my phone fell on my face once and that was a lesson learned for me LOL.

4. The impetus is really on tech users to engage mindfully, but what if technology were equally invested in making sure you were using your phone/tablet/object for its intended purpose, and nothing else? If you could build something like this, what would it look like?

This is a great question. There are moments where I almost wish my phone were akin to my experience on my kindle. No ads, no sponsored posts, none of it. I feel like an app that just keeps all of that at bay would be the most ideal thing for me. 

5. What are some apps/products related to your most-used tech that you’re a fan of? Why are they important or special to you?

These are a few of my faves in no particular order.

  • Buffer: I like to share interesting articles or findings with others after I read them but also do not want to just post them at the same time. This helps me to organize my thoughts a bit when sharing on social media. There are times however where I will cancel a post because it does not feel like the right time, but at least it can be posted later.
  • WhatsApp: I mention this because I forget it’s a standalone app versus the default messenger on my iPhone. It’s really helped me to communicate better with groups of friends and family. The ability to reply to a specific message, and use it for video, phone calls and text when overseas with only wifi has been so helpful. It’s one of my favourites for sure.  
  • Twitter: Twitter is an interesting place. For me it’s special because its a space that has helped me learn more about sharing, trying to express myself and really a place from where I have met people IRL and made friendships. Twitter is also nice for me because I find that I can learn a lot from the experience of others which is why it’s important for me. 
  • Instagram: I have mixed feelings about IG because of all the ads, and the algorithms but have to admit I look at it once a day. So if I am being honest, I think to myself, yeah it is a favourite though I am not a huge fan, haha—it’s complicated. It’s still a special one to me because I like seeing how others view experiences and moments in their lives. I don’t follow a lot of people on IG, not many celebrities of any industry, which still makes it a personal experience for me. The ads and the way it sorts the feeds though are the part I dislike the most. 
  • Adidas/Fit Bit app: This is one that is so utilitarian for me because I wear my Fitbit at all times. I have times like the past three months where my schedule/routine varied a lot, but this app is a nice validation for me to see that I was still moving. Or that walking places still counts—it helps to keep me accountable. 

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Michael Berhane, Founder of POCIT
Ashley Hefnawy
Ashley Hefnawy

I'm Ashley Hefnawy (pronounced, Heff-Nah-Wee). I'm a multi-disciplinary writer who currently resides in New York City.

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