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In Photos: Are Smartphones Killing The Suburbs?

One photographer’s images of the suburb where he grew up suggest as much.

The photographer Marc Vidal’s series Journey to the End of Boredom perfectly captures the banality of the French suburbs where he grew up, built in the 1980s and ’90s like so many others around the world. These suburbs, once thriving with street life, feel abandoned today.

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Vidal tells me over email that he didn’t force the emptiness. In fact, most of his street photography is centered on capturing people and the ways they entertain themselves. There’s none of that in Journey to the End of Boredom, though. He developed the series in 2016 and 2018 without following any particular methodology except getting lost in the maze of streets, which are named for famous artists (or Teenage Mutant Turtles) like Raphael Way or Michelangelo Street. An eerie emptiness permeates everything, from the sidewalks to the cookie-cutter homes. It wasn’t always this way, he says.

“I grew up in this kind of area in the ’80s and ’90s,” Vidal writes. “My parents and neighbors were the first to live in these places, and there were a lot of children of my age playing everywhere. There was a feeling of unity and there was a lot of life playing outside.” When he returned, things were very different–aside from a few errant people walking their dogs, the streets were oddly quiet.

[Photo: Marc Vidal]
I remember growing up in this type of suburb too, on the outskirts of Madrid. They were bubbling with life when I was young, playing with my friends after dinner on summer nights.  My parents would get together with neighbors and spend their time outside with BBQs, card games, or just talking. The extent of our indoor entertainment was the two TV channels, eight-bit consoles with a few games, and weekend movie rentals. Life happened outside. Today, those neighborhoods feel just like those Vidal captured in France.

Vidal believes that the difference is generational. The young bourgeois generation of parents of the ’80s are gone, and so are their kids. I’d argue that people also just don’t spend that much time outside today. I suspect that the way we spend our time and interact with our neighbors and friends has changed. Perhaps people have retreated into their comfy, lazy digital lives, able to constantly chat and stream entertainment with no real need for gardens to tend or streets to play in. Technology, I’m afraid, may have killed the suburb star.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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