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Here's an App that Tells You When to Get Off Your Damn Phone

Wish we lived in a pre-cell phone era? Look Up is the app for you.

Imagine scheduling a hangout and not confirming six times via group text. Or, instead of grabbing your phone, talking to strangers while your date is in the bathroom. No doubt, humanity gets less practice interacting face-to-face than we did when Seinfeld was on the air, but artist and designer Ekene Ijeoma envisions a world where we stare at screens a little less.

His latest project is Look Up, a participatory public art app that interrupts users’ multitasking while they are strolling (or biking, or driving) around New York City and reminds them to be aware of their surroundings.

Look Up from Ekene Ijeoma on Vimeo.

Look Up is not technically an app; it is a living wallpaper that runs in the background while users surf the web, scroll through Instagram, and do other stuff on their phones. At an intersection, a pair of animated eyeballs and a series of vibrations prompt them to look around. “It’s about embracing the serendipity of the city and engaging with its diversity,” Ijeoma tells The Creators Project. “When I’m walking around, I run into so many people, because I’m looking up, and I usually see them before they see me.”

Though largely about upping IRL interactions, Look Up also has a safety component. The app culls data from New York’s Vision Zero database, which documents accidents throughout the city. Each intersection is assigned an “energy score,” representing the number of crashes at that site. Manifested in the app as iris rings in the eyeball animation and number of vibrations, the score reflects the amount of positive energy Ijeoma hopes to pour back into the street.

Downloading an app connotates having to engage with it somehow, and companies often tap social media to quantify “buzz” around IRL events. Look Up  however, is not about metrics. Good vibes are all Ijeoma wants to generate. “It doesn’t ask you afterwards if you looked up or not. It’s not recording data. It’s not a gamified reward system, where if you look up this many times, you’ll be the mayor of the corner, or whatever. It’s just look up, and that’s it,” Ijeoma says. “Apps are designed and engineered to make us more addicted and do more things on our phones, but this is an app about not using phones. It’s contradictory. A lot of people are like, ‘Wow, that’s ironic,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, we live in really weird times.’”

He hypothesizes that society’s reliance on technology can only be solved through digital intervention. “In a way, I don’t believe in solving technology with technology, but a lot of governments are thinking about this. In New Jersey, they’re trying to ticket people for walking and texting. In Australia and Germany, they’re putting traffic lights into the street itself, so people don’t have to look up,” Ijeoma says. “For me this is art as a public service. It doesn’t have to be a physical thing in a space for it to be a public art project.”

To learn more about Ekene Ijeoma and Look Upclick here.

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