If alien life forms showed up on earth and it wasn’t captured on social media, did it actually happen?
Such zeitgeist-toned, philosophical musings highlight the serious issue of Brooklynites’ total absorption in their smartphones screens and hence their disconnection from seeing, acknowledging and valuing the people and city around them.
Smartphone distraction poses a trifecta of potential loss of empathy, life and limb, at intersections where pedestrians, cyclists and drivers converge, which is why Look Up, a live wallpaper app, currently available on the Android platform, has real world value.
Developed by Ekene Ijeoma, who is a designer known for his data-driven, socially-engaged interdisciplinary work, Look Up is a tool to combat smartphone distraction, restore our empathetic capacity and reduce accident rates in NYC. A participatory public art app, that was developed through a commission from Google Creative Lab, Look Up prompts users to look up from their phones, when approaching an intersection. This is done by vibrating and showing a notification if they’re in an app or showing eyeball animations in the background if they’re on their home screens.
It took six months for Mr. Ijeoma to develop Look Up, which he says “is more than an app”. He had to incorporate data analysis from the DOT, build animation tools that allowed Look Up to access and interact with the data, while also interacting with the GPS of a user’s smartphone. The data driven animation are a pair of crazy looking eyes that a user won’t soon forget or ignore.
Technically speaking, a live wallpaper is an app that runs in the background and allows other apps to run on top of it. Though available for several years, Mr. Ijeoma has injected a fresh and utilitarian spin into an app category that has lost steam, and generally not progressed past beautifying home screens. Look Up uses crash injury and fatalities data from Department Of Transportation’s Vision Zero street safety program, and combines it with a user’s GPS coordinates, to display location based, data driven animation.
The Intersections of Tillary St. and Flatbush extension and Empire Boulevard and Flatbush Avenue, are not only super busy, but also bookend a list which ranks the top 25 most dangerous intersections in NYC. When accidents, are such busy and potentially dangerous intersections, are caused by smartphone distraction, it can cast serious doubt about how much people value their lives, and the lives of others. Staying aware, alert and engaged with the people, cyclists and drivers at intersections, is a way to reduce the number of ghosts bikes (bikes spray painted white to commemorate a cyclist that died in an accident) in Brooklyn and the tragic news of pedestrians killed or maimed by motor vehicles.
A first generation Nigerian-American and Brooklyn resident, Mr. Ijeoma is both a designer and artist. He was recently awarded a NYFA Fellowship in Design, Urban Environments and Architecture and featured in Adweek’s Creative 100 as 1 of the 10 “visual artists whose imagination and intellect will inspire you” and also in Good Magazine’s “Good 100” for “tackling pressing global issues”. He has trumpeted the restoration of empathy on city streets, over safety, with his development of Look Up, and though I’m all for empathy, it’s the utility of the Look Up that I find most valuable.
I’ve been in an accident while a passenger in a taxi, which was caused by smartphone distraction, and as a cyclist, have had several close calls with pedestrians distracted by their smartphones, so I know first hand the value of a tool that reminds you to look up before reaching an intersection.
Being the first market to have the Look Up app, is a perk of living in NYC, so take advantage of it Brooklyn, before your rent jumps again and makes you wanna walk out into traffic on purpose! In the coming months, Look Up will be available for IOS and will also roll out to other cities, but you can grab it now on Google Play. It’s free and open source and a great tool.