I, Spy

I-Spy books

On Sunday, Diego, Juri, David, and I slogged around Park Slope in the heat, snapping photos of strangers and writing notes about them, à la Harriet the Spy. The assignment was to

take a one-hour hour walk or ride around the city. Try to travel as far as you can from your start and get back in an hour, this will give more variety. Take note of every time you see a person using a digital device. This could be anything from buying and using a Metrocard on the subway to playing video games in an arcade to making cell phone calls to using an ATM to swiping an ID at the gym. With each action you note, take note of:

* location and time of day
* apparent intent of the actor
* time taken for the action
* number of people involved
* motor skills needed (hands, legs, seeing, hearing, etc)

Collect your notes on your blog. Do this in pairs, with one person observing and the other keeping notes. Alternate roles as well.

My data

Observation photos by Juri

Because there were four of us, the taking turns part was a bit chaotic. Most of the time, whenever anyone spotted a new subject, they’d call it out and we’d all start scribbling or photographing (I didn’t bring a camera, because mine is big and obvious), though there was one point when Diego told me he’d take notes for a while, as he’d mostly been photographing people. We spent almost the entire hour walking, so it was hard to get a sense of the time taken for most of the actions we observed, especially as most of those were cell phone calls or iPod usage that started and ended outside our view. There was one guy whom we walked behind for several minutes, and while everyone else went into a shop to poke around, I waited on the sidewalk and saw a couple of people who had ongoing calls.

The lack of variety was kind of surprising, but it had a lot to do with where we were. There was no subway along our route, and no buses arrived while we stood near any bus stops, so we didn’t see any Metrocard use. And in some spots where there was a lot going on, we’d focus on different people, so, for example, David and Juri observed some people using ATMs, while Diego and I were facing the other way. We had to go out of our way to see a coffee shop with people working on laptops, and though we saw several people carrying cameras, I spotted only one person using one (besides us, of course). I was also surprised to see only one person apparently using his cell phone as a timepiece, especially since I was pulling mine out every two minutes for that purpose.

Nearly everyone we observed was solo. Nineteen out of the thirty-six people whose actions I recorded were using cell phones, apparently to communicate with someone else (though you never know, with all the stuff you can do through your phone now). Fourteen of those were walking or bike riding while doing so. All but one person held his or her phone in hand; of the two people I saw using hands-free phone mics (one of whom is not on the list, because it was after we’d officially stopped stalking people), one still had to use his hand to hold the mic close enough to his mouth that he could be heard. Most people who didn’t have iPhones had flip phones, which require a fair amount of dexterity to use.

One thing we didn’t make note of was people using digital tools within cars. For one thing, it’s hard to see into a car. For another, it’s safe to assume that any car made in the last fifteen years has something digital in it, so probably every car we saw was eligible. I would have liked to see a driver using that system that helps you back up without hitting anything—a gadget I became aware of for the first time in July, when I rode in my brother’s ginormous SUV—but there are very few parking spot in Park Slope, so finding anyone trying to parallel park would have required much more time walking around in the blazing heat.

My impression was that not only were most of the people we saw using technology walking while doing so, but also that most of the people we saw walking were using technology while doing so. It might have been useful to count the number of people not using digital devices, for comparison. Then again, we were having enough trouble keeping up, as it was.

I-Spy photo: I-SPY books by Leo Reynolds / LeoL30; some rights reserved. All other photos by Juri Imamura.

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