Pen and Ink and Dysconnected

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A one-liner head (Speedball Black, Hunt #101, on 20lb cartridge)

Almost all of the images in ‘Dysconnected: Isolated By Our Mobile Devices’, are rendered in pen and ink. This ‘lo-tech’ way of making an image in 2016 may, to some, seem tedious and archaic, and perhaps it is. But it does arguably have its advantages. There is the tactile experience of the scratching and running of the nib against the paper. You get to observe and attempt to manipulate the dozens of subtle variations in the way the nib gives up the ink, and the way in which the ink interacts with the nature of the paper. The necessary rhythm of the dip-draw, dip-draw, requires the artist to reflect on and respect the limits of the physical world. Time is a necessary part of the process. You can’t shade large swatches with a single button push, and then reverse the process with another button push, as you can when you’re using an electronic graphic tablet (wonderful, magical devices). So you have to give more thought to the plan. When mistakes occur, you have to destroy the drawing or incorporate the result. The latter is always my preferred option, and not uncommonly results in the most enjoyable outcomes. When one makes mistakes on a tablet, of course, one simply hits ‘undo’. When you finish a pen and ink drawing you have an object in your hands. An artifact, a trace of where you’ve spent time and thought. If you use a thicker ink, like Speedball Super Black India Ink, you can run your fingers over the surface of the dry drawing and feel the contours of the ink actually standing up off the paper. Each line is an object.


Lo-tech lovers can be accused of fetishism, and there may be some truth in that observation. The idea of being part of a procession reaching back hundreds of years, of feeling links to scribes and parchment and illuminated manuscripts, is, after all, complete mental fantasy and romance. But, one would counter, there is still something valid that can be gained from the details, and satisfaction from the minutiae. When I read the great Richard Thompson, waxing lyrically about the Hunt #101 and Leonardt EF Principal nibs, I enjoy the presence in this world of one who has carefully observed the universe, at the granular level.

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Lo-lo-tech: a pen constructed from a plastic drinking straw, a wooden chopstick, an elastic band, and a Hunt #101 nib.

Of course, the whole idea of talking about the beauty of lo-tech pen and ink, and then using devices like scanners and computers and the internet to share the drawings, is rich with irony. More so given that the drawings in ‘Dysconnected’ critique the very devices on which they up to now have been viewed. And the added irony that, were it not for the daily rhythm that is begged by blogging, the series of drawings (which were posted daily for 4 months in early 2016) would likely not have propagated at such speed. All of this back and forth is delicious. To bring it all back to concrete objects, the drawings will now be available back on paper again, with the publication of the book late this month.

‘Dysconnected: Isolated By Our Mobile Devices’, a collection of over 75 illustrations with brief passages of interwoven quotes and text, all encouraging us to reflect on the way our phones and tablets have affected our behaviour, will soon be available on and

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Devotion (from the ‘Dysconnected’ series)

Our Runaway Infatuation With The Sleek Toys As Powerful Narcotics – “Aldous Huxley’s nightmare was that we would be undone by the things that delight us.”


Orwell feared that we would be destroyed by the things we fear – the state surveillance apparatus so vividly evoked in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Huxley’s nightmare, set out in Brave New World, his great dystopian novel, was that we would be undone by the things that delight us. —

Brave New World was published in 1932. The title comes from Miranda’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Oh, wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is! Oh brave new world, / That has such people in’t.”

It is set in the London of the distant future – AD 2540 – and describes a fictional society inspired by two things: Huxley’s imaginative extrapolation of scientific and social trends; and his first visit to the US, in which he was struck by how a population could apparently be rendered docile by advertising and retail therapy. As an intellectual who was fascinated by science, he guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that scientific advances would eventually give humans powers that had hitherto been regarded as the exclusive preserve of the gods. And his encounters with industrialists like Alfred Mond led him to think that societies would eventually be run on lines inspired by the managerial rationalism of mass production (“Fordism”) – which is why the year 2540 AD in the novel is “the Year of Our Ford 632”.

In the novel Huxley describes the mass production of children by what we would now call in vitro fertilisation; interference in the development process of infants to produce a number of “castes” with carefully modulated levels of capacities to enable them to fit without complaining into the various societal and industrial roles assigned to them; and Pavlovian conditioning of children from birth.

In this world nobody falls ill, everyone has the same lifespan, there is no warfare, and institutions and marriage and sexual fidelity are dispensed with. Huxley’s dystopia is a totalitarian society, ruled by a supposedly benevolent dictatorship whose subjects have been programmed to enjoy their subjugation through conditioning and the use of a narcotic drug – soma – that is less damaging and more pleasurable than any narcotic known to us. The rulers of Brave New World have solved the problem of making people love their servitude. —

…our runaway infatuation with the sleek toys produced by the likes of Apple and Samsung – allied to our apparently insatiable appetite for Facebook, Google and other companies that provide us with “free” services in exchange for the intimate details of our daily lives – might well turn out to be as powerful a narcotic as soma was for the inhabitants of Brave New World.

– excerpt from ‘Aldous Huxley: the prophet of our brave new digital dystopia’, John Naughton, The Guardian, 22 Nov 2013

‘Transient Smartphone Blindness’ After Checking Phones In The Dark


Warning: Looking at your smartphone while lying in bed at night could wreak havoc on your vision.

Two women went temporarily blind from constantly checking their phones in the dark, say doctors who are now alerting others to the unusual phenomenon.
Fomo, stress and sleeplessness: are smartphones bad for students?
Read more

The solution: Make sure to use both eyes when looking at your smartphone screen in the dark.

In Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine, doctors detailed the cases of the two women, ages 22 and 40, who experienced “transient smartphone blindness” for months.

The women complained of recurring episodes of temporary vision loss for up to 15 minutes. They were subjected to variety of medical exams, MRI scans and heart tests. Yet doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with them to explain the problem.

But minutes after walking into an eye specialist’s office, the mystery was solved.

“I simply asked them, ’What exactly were you doing when this happened?’” recalled Dr. Gordon Plant of Moorfield’s Eye Hospital in London.

He explained that both women typically looked at their smartphones with only one eye while resting on their side in bed in the dark — their other eye was covered by the pillow.

“So you have one eye adapted to the light because it’s looking at the phone and the other eye is adapted to the dark,” he said.

When they put their phone down, they couldn’t see with the phone eye. That’s because “it’s taking many minutes to catch up to the other eye that’s adapted to the dark,” Plant said.

– from ‘Smartphone users temporarily blinded after looking at screen in bed’, The Guardian, 23 Jun 2016

Giant Hands Artwork Moved Because ‘Bumped Into By Texters’


An artwork consisting of a massive pair of clasped hands has had to be moved away from a cathedral path due to people “bumping” into them.
The 20ft tall (6m) sculpture, called The Kiss, was positioned at Salisbury Cathedral, inviting people to walk in-between the wrists.
Artist Sophie Ryder wrote online that people were “walking through texting”. Some had “bumped their heads”, she said.

– excerpt and image from BBC UK, 19 Feb 2016

“These teens were experiencing for the first time what it is like to be cut off from some of the most sophisticated distraction methods ever devised.”

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The Guardian asked a group of teenage volunteers to stop using social media for as long as they could manage. They all found it extremely difficult, but they also all noted benefits from the experience. In the end, none could imagine living without their mobile devices. The article is worth the read. Here are some excerpts:

“Two-thirds of 12- to 15-year-olds in the UK now own a smartphone. For older teens, the figure is 90%. Under-16s spend an average of three hours a day online, which overtook time spent watching television for the first time this year. They watch videos on YouTube, scroll through Instagram (400 million users worldwide), post on Facebook (1.5 billion) and hang out on Snapchat (100 million). Their adolescence will be shaped in ways that are significantly different from the experiences of their parents, most of whom will wonder about the impact of so much screen time.

In 2001, the US author Marc Prensky invented the term “digital native” to describe the post-millennial generation who would grow up in an online world. “Our students today are all ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the internet,” he wrote. The term quickly became shorthand for describing the experience of children and adolescents, but it also became open to misinterpretation.

“It concerns me when you hear people in government or education throwing that term around,” says Emma Cooper, of digital media agency Rocket and The Children’s Media Conference. “There’s an implication that they have an inherent understanding of technology. But while they might understand what buttons to press, that doesn’t mean they’re ready to use it. My nine-year-old has hacked our Netflix account, but that doesn’t mean he’s emotionally ready to watch something that’s certified 12.”

“This generation of teenagers may have agile thumbs, but most have no memory of life before the internet was constantly available in the palm of your hand. Spending two to three hours a day on social media has become the new normal; what would life be without it? We asked a group of teenage volunteers to go on a social media fast for as long as they could manage.

Some of the changes they noticed were physical. “I got to sleep earlier,” Esther Laver, 16, says. “It was nice having more time – but then there were times when I felt like I couldn’t unwind, because I wasn’t using social media to relax.” Most of the teens said their sleep habits changed, although some also reported reaching for their phones in the middle of the night, before realising what they were doing. A study of Welsh secondary school pupils published last year found that a fifth of the 12- to 15-year-olds analysed woke almost every night to use social media.

We asked our group to map their moods, scoring how they felt throughout the day, with one being very negative and 10 being very positive. Several reported that, for the first few evenings, their scores were around two or three. “Even though I was able to catch up on some revision, the anxiety of being without social media really got to me,” says Janice Da Costa, 18, from London. “Everything moves so fast – I hated not knowing what was going on.”

Being bored and feeling isolated were mentioned over and over again; these teens were experiencing for the first time what it is like to be cut off from some of the most sophisticated distraction methods ever devised. “We live in an attention economy,” says Elsa Bartley, a user experience designer for a large social media platform for adults. “People in my industry are constantly talking about engagement: how do we keep people engaged, what info do they need? How do we give it to them at the right time?” Everything about platforms such as Facebook is designed to keep you coming back. They tap into our very basic needs – the desire for social bonding, the fascination with information that is relevant to us. “It’s very powerful, that feeling that everything you’re seeing on social media is basically connected to you,” Bartley says.

Several of our teenagers said that after the initial adjustment, they felt happier without social media; but when they were given the option to switch back on, they took it. “I can’t imagine life without it,” Da Costa. For this generation, social media is where they make sense of the world. It is increasingly where everything that is important to them is taking place. Going online is no longer the thing you do to take a break from real life. It is real life.

Further quotes from the article:

“I sleep with my phone on my pillow. It’s the first thing I reach for when I wake up in the morning… if I got a brain tumour, I’d have something to tweet about!” – Henry, 16

“I told my friends I was turning off my social media on Tuesday, then I switched it off on Wednesday after school. I was really worried about getting bored, so I asked my mum if we could go out shopping. On Thursday, I went out after school, and again on Friday, just to keep myself distracted. On Saturday morning, my mates had to come round and knock on my door to get me. It was funny being out without my phone, because I don’t have a watch, so I had to keep asking my friends what the time was. My notifications were going off all the time, but I couldn’t look at them. It was pretty hard. Then on Sunday, I could see that they were all about playing football and I just thought, “I can’t not look”, so I turned everything back on. – Sam, 14

“Getting rid of social media made me feel more positive, more optimistic, but it’s still hard to do without it. When you’re bored, it’s the easy option. You just open it up and it’s there. For a few weeks after I finished the experiment, I would sometimes delete my apps for an hour or so. I guess that improvement is better than nothing.” – Anna, 13

“I wouldn’t turn it off again. Even though I was more productive, I felt a lot more isolated. I’ve always seen myself as someone who can hold a good conversation, but I didn’t realise how much I relied on Messenger, and that shocked me. Without it, I just couldn’t connect with people.” – Henry, 16, again

“For the first couple of days, I was grumpy, but the more I did it, the happier I felt. I think maybe because I wasn’t worrying as much about what I looked like in selfies and things like that. I was pleased to get it back, though, because I missed my old routine. I still want it in my life.” – Leah, 14

All excerpts from ‘I worried people would forget about me’: can teenagers survive without social media?, Rosie Ifould, The Guardian, 18 Jun 2016

If you found this article of interest, you likely will enjoy ‘Dysconnected’, a book of illustrations and quotes that encourages one to be mindful about how we are using our cellphones:

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The average Canadian child gets too much screen time, too little sleep, too little exercise, and is fatigued as a result.

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ParticipAction‘, a ‘national non-profit organization whose mission is to help Canadians sit less and move more’ has released its ‘2016 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth‘. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it finds that the average Canadian child gets too much screen time, too little sleep, too little exercise, and is fatigued as a result.

From the survey:
The average 5-17-year-old Canadian spends 8.5 hours being sedentary each day
Only 10% of 11-15 year olds in Canada meet the screen time recommendation of no more than two hours per day
31 per cent of school-aged kids and 26 per cent of teens in Canada are sleep-deprived

“As parents, we need to set good examples and be good role models,” said Elio Antunes, president and CEO of Participaction. “We need to put down our screens, we need to ensure we’re getting adequate sleep, we need to ensure that we’re active with our family and so we need to build in routines that support physical activity on a daily basis.”
– as quoted in ‘Many Canadian kids ‘aren’t moving enough to be tired, and they may also be too tired to move’: report, Amina Zafar, CBC News, 16 Jun 2016

So, what does ParticipAction recommend?:
“Children and youth need a combination of high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behavior and sufficient sleep each day to be healthy. A healthy 24 hours includes:
– Uninterrupted 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night for those aged 5 to 13 years, and 8 to 10 hours per night for those aged 14 to 17 years, with consistent bed and wake-up times.
– An accumulation of at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity involving a variety of aerobic activities. Vigorous physical activities and muscle- and bone-strengthening activities should each be incorporated at least 3 days per week.
– Several hours of a variety of structured and unstructured light physical activities.
– No more than 2 hours per day of recreational screen time.
– Limited sitting for extended periods.”

Welcome to DYSCONNECTED, the Blog

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Hi! Welcome to ‘Dysconnected’, the Blog.

With the June 2016 publication of ‘Dysconnected – Isolated By Our Mobile Devices’ (the Book!), this blog will change in format. For the first six months, it solely focused on the ‘Dysconnected’ series of images. It will now also incorporate ideas and discussion, designed to encourage us to reflect on all matters regarding the state of our relationships with our mobile devices.

In future, the happiest, most content and satisfied people will be those of us who figure out how to best manage our relationships with our own technological devices. Stories about people successfully or unsuccessfully navigating these waters helps us become more mindful of how we spend time with our mobiles. The images themselves sensitize us to the risks of isolation through tech use, and opinions, ideas and facts even more so.

We will be posting excerpts and links from articles of interest, at times with discussion or illustration. Please add your thoughts to the comments below each article, and also please send us any interesting related links that pertain to humans and their mobile tech.