Over the past century, rapid technological advances have revolutionized every aspect of the way we live and communicate. But while there’s been much discussion around technology’s impact on our attention spans, our workloads, and even the art world, less has been said about the physical impact it has had on the way we relate to the built environment.
Take, for example, the classic New York City tenement apartment. Built in the latter half of the 19th century, these dwellings, often just two rooms, were designed to house entire families of multiple generations. Now, these apartments are considered small for even a single individual.
Standards of living have certainly risen from tenement life, which was sometimes downright dangerous—helped in part by safety laws like The Tenement House Act of 1867, which required a shared toilet for every 20 residents in an attempt to codify regulations regarding sanitation, air flow, light, and access. But design also plays a role in this shift in occupancy expectations. The spaces in our apartments where a dining table and maybe even a piano and a bed once stood, are more often now fitted only with a sofa, a coffee table—and, most importantly, a TV.
With improved housing quality and the expansion of entertainment options, of our lives are increasingly spent inside the home. (The average American now spends more than 90 percent of their lives indoors or in a vehicle, according to The National Human Activity Pattern Survey in 2012). And we’re not just spending more time in our homes, we’re often spending those hours staring at screens of different sizes and functions—for the average American, more than 10 hours a day.
Visual entertainment wields an unseen influence over our relationship to physical space. As our preferred means of entertainment and the distance required to view it has changed, so too have our rooms and the furniture that fills them.
1900: A Focus on Function
Before the advent of broadcast media, homes were organized around activities like eating and sleeping. As people migrated to cities for economic opportunity, many family members often squeezed into tenement-style apartments. Furniture came at a premium during this period preceding mass production, and it often took up little space and was focused on function. Toilets were shared and placed outside of the residences, which further increased the useable square footage within the home or apartment.
1920s–30s: Radio Comes Home
Following the introduction of broadcast radio by stations like Pittsburgh’s KDKA, which launched in 1920, the medium began to rise in popularity as a vehicle for news, sports, and serialized programing. Consumers began to create gathering areas in their homes centered around their new radios. But little space was required to enjoy them. It was possible for listeners to simply place a cabinet-style unit as a focal point of a room, or put a tabletop radio receiver, like Westinghouse’s early models, on a side table and enjoy the sound throughout the space.
Post-World War II: Television Takes Over America
A few fledgeling broadcast stations (including early versions of New York’s CBS and NBC) launched in the 1920s. But it was not until after World War II that TV hit the mainstream, when innovation met a rebounding economy. In 1946, there were about 6,000 televisions in the U.S., a fraction of the 40 million homes equipped with radios in the country. But by the middle of the 1950s, some 50 percent of American homes had a TV—despite the fact that in 1954 the early color 12.5-inch RCA CT-100 sold for $1,000, about $8,800 adjusted for inflation.Designed as furniture, the big, blocky wooden-encased sets with screens topping out around 11 inches became the centerpieces of family living areas, with sofas positioned across from them to enable viewing. One design side effect, though, was the TV tray, first created in the early 1950s—just in time for the invention of the Swanson TV Brand Frozen Dinner, created to be eaten as viewers tuned in to early classics like Howdy Doody.
1960s: TV Gets Gadgety
Innovations in plastic and an interest in space-age technology signaled television’s shift from a piece of furniture to a gadget. By this time, TVs had made their way into nearly 90 percent of American homes. Screens were more portable—and a modern design statement—with pieces like theAlgol 11 by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper from 1964. Viewers remained tethered to the broadcast schedule to catch programing. But by 1965, color television began making its way into the home, when NBC committed to the format for the majority of its shows.
1990s: Entertainment Gets Supersized
As television shows gave viewers a peek at the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Americans clamored for bigger sets—and more of them. New rear-projection, LCD, and plasma technology replaced the cathode ray tube, making the big-screen TV a possibility. These sets took up more room: a viewing distance between 8 and 16 feet was recommended for a standard-definition 40-inch set, as images were notoriously unclear at close range. With their required space and financial investment, these entertainment appliances turned into the focal point as dedicated media rooms became more popular in larger homes.
2000–2010s: Screens, Screens Everywhere
Televisions began to blend into the living room wall as smaller, thinner screens proliferated. Meanwhile, HDTV became the standard, reducing the recommended distance needed to view the picture by about half. But as technology developed, so did new competition for a viewer’s attention. By 2015, 71 percent of Americans reportedly slept with their smartphones. Cord-cutters began to spend more time with their phones and laptops, as streaming services like Netflix eliminated the reliance on a broadcast schedule. This turned viewing into a more personalized, individual experience—and for a small but growing number of Americans, it eliminated the need for a TV at all.
Today TV Takes a Stand
While curved screens, 4K Ultra HD, and organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology make viewing a more immersive experience, designers are beginning to look at televisions as pieces of furniture again. Among the most talked about releases is the freestanding Samsung SerifbyErwan and Ronan Bouroullec, an elegant screen of up to 40 inches set within an I-beam-shaped frame.
The high-performance television set can sit directly on a surface, or thin legs can be attached for a standalone viewing experience. After decades of televisions intentionally receding from view, the Bouroullecs give the devices premium placement once again. The TV backs are even lined in fabric so that they can be enjoyed from 360 degrees in the middle of any room. Time will tell if this design-forward approach will get urbanites to reverse their trend of consuming programing on iPads and laptops rather than flatscreens.
Follow These 20 Photographers to Understand the World’s Most Important Issues
BY DEMIE KIM
DEC 29TH, 2016 1:00 PM
As our quest for authenticity grows by the day and trust in official media outlets wanes, some are looking to get their information directly from the original source. Instagram continues to be a valuable platform on which some of the year’s news events have been photographed by those closest to their core—before news cameras have arrived—and as such offers some of the most genuine depictions of key struggles facing our world. With the help of insight provided by Instagram’s community team, we surveyed the year’s biggest events and issues, and those that we’ll face in 2017, to pick out 20 accounts to follow to keep up in a rapidly changing world.
Peterson’s cinematic, close-up portraits of U.S. presidential candidates and their supporters are among the most dramatic images taken along this year’s campaign trail, finding their way to covers of TIME magazine and NY Mag, among others. Highly contrasted and garishly lit, his black-and-white images chronicled the insanity of the protests and rallies leading up to the election—and remain a powerful record in its wake.
While documenting the water crisis in Flint, Michigan—conveying residents’ fears for the health of their children, as well as their efforts to alleviate the catastrophe—Detroit-based photographer Greeson also commemorated one of its cherished community traditions, prom, to show the resilience of the community amidst the crisis.
Californian photographer Seaman, who has documented the effects of global warming in the polar regions since 2003, made her way to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation three months ago to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Her captivating individual portraits, along with photos of water protectors in action, reveal the strength and solidarity exhibited at the campsite.
Photographer and activist Hammond is co-founder of Witness Change, a nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing the power of visual storytelling to fight the human rights violations faced by marginalized groups. In his ongoing “Witness Change” campaign, he shines light on survivors of LGBTQ+ persecution around the world. Recently, Hammond photographed and interviewed young children for National Geographic’s special January 2017 issue on the “Gender Revolution,” its first to feature a transgender person on the cover.
Italian photographer Gattoni, a member of Instagram collective Every Day Climate Change, highlights the impact of climate change on communities across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. A recent series of photographs shows the consequences of coastal erosion in West Africa, where homes, schools, and livelihoods have been destroyed by the high tide precipitated by global warming.
Following 25-year-old black man Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody in 2015, Baltimore-based photographer Allen’s black-and-white images of protests and unrest in his home city went viral on Instagram; his now-iconic photograph of a young black protester mid-stride, with a police troop behind him, made the cover of TIME’s May 11, 2015 issue. Since then, Allen has continued to photograph in and around Baltimore, covering local youth culture as well as Black Lives Matter and post-election protests.
For the past four years, Indian photographer Sen has documented the apocalyptic landscape of Jharia, India—once a lush forest—where coal fires have burned underground since 1916. The fires have led to rampant destruction in nearby villages, ravaging homes and creating health problems for locals. The resulting images, chronicled in his project “The End,” expose the realities of these mineworkers and their families to the world—and have won Sen the 2016 Getty Images Instagram Grant.
FOLLOW FOR: GEOPOLITICAL CONFLICT AND CULTURAL ISSUES
Following over 40 trips to North Korea, where he helped AP establish a bureau (the first Western news agency to have a branch in the isolated country), Instagram veteran Guttenfelder returned to the U.S. in 2014 and has since captured landscapes and communities across his native Midwest, often for National Geographic. Images he posts to Instagram are strictly taken by mobile phone—and in this past year alone, Guttenfelder’s subjects have included Trump’s presidential campaign, President Obama’s visit to Yosemite, and Fidel Castro’s nationwide funeral.
Inspired by the work of war photographer Philip Jones Griffiths, self-taught British photographer Trayler-Smith covered the Darfur conflict, Indian Ocean tsunami, and the Iraq War for The Daily Telegraph before going on to focus on long-term photo projects, including an award-winning series on childhood obesity, “The Big O.” Lately, her subject is women living in Iraqi war zones, including those who have been displaced by ISIS.
FOLLOW FOR: CLIMATE CHANGE AND UNDERREPORTED COMMUNITIES IN LATIN AMERICA
One of the winners of the inaugural Getty Images Instagram Grant last year, Brazilian-born, Mexico City-based photojournalist Zehbrauskas tells stories around climate change and the everyday lives of underreported communities across Latin America. Following the 2014 Iguala kidnapping of 43 college students, Zehbrauskas undertook a project, titled Family Matters, to take portraits of the victim’s families, many of whom lacked photos of their lost loved ones.
Brown’s subjects range from the 2011 Libyan Revolution to train journeys through China. The Magnum photographer is currently based in Cuba, where he is documenting the capital city’s electrifying youth and nightlife scene, and most recently, the country’s powerful response to Fidel Castro’s death.
FOLLOW FOR: RECOVERY EFFORTS FOLLOWING THE NEPAL EARTHQUAKE
This account, co-founded by Kathmandu-born photographer Sumit Dayal, documents the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that hit Nepal in April 2015, capturing the debris that continues to be cleared from destroyed homes along with images of rebuilding and communal healing. The account was created to direct international aid efforts, allowing NGOS to target aid to communities most in need of help.
Traveling over 48,000 miles across 44 U.S. states for his ongoing project, “The Geography of Poverty,” Black photographs communities with poverty rates over 20% to explore—and raise awareness around—the links between agriculture, the environment, and poverty. “People should care because we’re all implicated in this system,” he toldTIME. “What we pay at the supermarket is what eventually goes to the farms and goes to the farm laborers...[if] I can lift that veil and make that connection between what we eat, the choices we make, and how that impacts real people—communities—that’s the role I can play.”
Tritt’s ongoing Instagram project “Transcending Self” aims to increase visibility around transgender and gender-expansive youth to promote acceptance, foster support, and ultimately save lives (the suicide rates for trans youth with support are 13% lower than for those without). Her account features portraits of transgender and gender-expansive youth, ages two to 20, from the U.S. and Europe; accompanying stories relate the challenges, and joys, experienced by the subjects and their loved ones.
FOLLOW FOR: PERSPECTIVES OF BLACK INDIVIDUALS ACROSS AMERICA
Jamaica-born, Brooklyn-based photographer Roye—founder of Everyday Black America—captures portraits of black communities across America, from Brooklyn to Detroit to Chicago, with the goal of spreading mutual empathy and cultural awareness. “Before anything, before language, we see,” he told TIME, who recently named him Instagram Photographer of 2016. “And if I can make you think about a particular subject matter before you even start to talk about it, then that’s my aim.”
Serbian photographer Drobnjakovic captures portraits of Syrian migrants at the Idomeni campsite, as well as those who have taken refuge in his home country. Through his images of quiet moments of solitude and camaraderie, he hopes to “allow empathy without pity, to offer connectedness instead of conformity,” as he explains on his website. Recently featured on his Instagram feed is a series of portraits of fighters against the Islamic State in Northern Iraq.
Afghan photojournalist Zalmai was a refugee himself—along with his older brother, he fled Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet occupation and made his way all the way to Switzerland. For the past decade and a half, Zalmai has dedicated his practice to the plight of refugees around the world, most recently turning his lens to those migrating from war zones in Afghanistan, Syria, and Sudan.
FOLLOW FOR: SUPPORT VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND TRAFFICKING IN INDIA
New York and Kolkata-based photographer Sharma focuses on the experience of women across India, including rape survivors and victims of sex trafficking. “Sharing their story is the first step to understanding and ultimately eradicating such madness from our world,” she told Instagram.
FOLLOW FOR: OVERLOOKED AND UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES IN AMERICA
This Chilean-American photographer is dedicated to telling the stories of individuals outside of mainstream society, from gentrified families in San Francisco’s Mission District to impoverished communities and street vendors in his native Los Angeles. As Unzueta writes in one of his captions, he “didn’t become involved with photography for the skill show...This journey was born out of the overwhelming feeling of seeing so much destitution in a powerhouse country.”
Simultaneously capturing the beauty of natural environments and the communities threatened by climate change, Delano—founder of Everyday Climate Change—has documented the interconnected effects of global warming, food insecurity, and famine from the Ethiopian Highlands to the Bay of Bengal.