TED 2017: Screen Addiction

4 weeks | Freelance

Illustrate a series of background slides for Adam Alter’s 2017 TED Talk about screen addiction. The illustrations should center around the addictive nature of daily screen time and provide a visually compelling background to the presentation.

Graphic Designer
Adam Alter is an NYU Psychology Professor and author of the book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. His TED Talk, Why Our Screens Make Us Less Happy, dives into the psychology behind screen addiction, why losing hours to our devices makes us unhappy, and what we can do to reclaim our time in the face of purposefully addictive technologies.

Generating Ideas

As I set about brainstorming ideas for what sorts of images would augment the story Adam would be telling, I looked to past interviews he’d given about the topic. This image was directly inspired by the following quote from an NPR interview:

“Ten years ago, before the iPad and iPhone were mainstream, the average person had an attention span of about 12 seconds . . . [now] research suggests that there’s been a drop from 12 to 8 seconds . . . shorter than the attention span of the average goldfish.”
- Adam Alter

Coming Back to An Old Idea

As strange as it may sound, I’ve been drawing about screen addiction since way before I ever connected with Adam Alter.

The image of someone being abducted by the light of their phone was one of the very first pieces of digital art I ever made, back when Photoshop was a completely foreign landscape and the only tool I could use was the brush tool.

Over the years I’ve come back to this same image a few different times, rendering it in new styles as my skills and aesthetic preferences have grown and changed.

Project Summary

In the end, only the phone-abduction illustration made it into the deck that was ultimately presented at TED. I would still certainly call this project a success, as my client was happy with the result and my illustration provided an excellent visual backdrop for Adam’s message.

It was a really exciting opportunity for me to work on a project with such a wide reach, and to be able to provide visuals for a highly regarded event like TED. I feel very lucky to have gotten to work with a subject matter that I have a history with and that I relate to on a personal level. And to have my work validated by the choice to feature it prominently in the cover image of the talk was icing on the cake.

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