For the past six weeks, Exeter Geography graduate Natalie Cleverly has been working as a nicely paid intern on the ‘follow the things’ project. She took the Geographies of Material Culture module that’s generated our site since 2008, but in its new 2020-21 online iteration. And, this summer, she read every ‘compilation’ page on our website, looking for timely events about each page to post on our Twitter and Instagram because they happened ‘on this day’. As Natalie was finishing up, we asked her what it had been like to read the whole site. We don’t know anyone else who has done this! What do you learn? What’s been happening to ‘follow the things’ activism since we first opened our store ten years ago? Here are her thoughts.
Last September, I began the Material Cultures module at Exeter University. Since I’d chosen the module five months prior, the world had turned so upside down and inside out that I’d forgotten what I’d even signed up for. But I was fascinated. Particularly by followthethings.com itself. It wasn’t like any research project I had seen before. I reached out to Ian – who ran the module and the website – ‘Is there any way I can help?’.
And here we are. I’m not a followthethings.com expert, but after reading through 70+ pages of the website (almost the whole thing!) I’ve gained a good insight. So, what did I take away from sifting through all these years of content around activism / filmmaking / grassroots organising / following-the-thing?
A lot.Continue reading
There are two weeks to go before our latest pedagogical experiment begins: the free online course called ‘Who made my clothes?’ which we have put together with Fashion Revolution and the University of Exeter. To help to spread the word, CEO Ian will front a small number of ‘Who made my…?’ films which show how we can imagine and find traces of labour in everyday commodities. The first film is about mobile phones and ends with a request. Please try this out and let us know what happens. Then watch the others in this playlist.
Not sure if this is or is not the ‘norm’ but I just received my brand new iPhone here in the UK and once it had been activated on iTunes I found that the home screen (the screen you can personalise with a photo) already had a photo set against it !!!! (Source: markm49uk 2008, np link).
I hope she doesn’t get fired, she looks so bloody happy! I will dedicate my iPhone homescreen to her for the rest of this week (Source: vegasdodger 2008, np link).
markm49uk (2008) iPhone 3G – already with pictures ! (aka “iPhone Girl”). macrumors.com 20 August (https://forums.macrumors.com/threads/iphone-3g-already-with-pictures-aka-iphone-girl.547777/ last accessed 13 June 2017)
Cook, I. (2011) iPhone 3G – already with pictures! (aka ‘iPhone Girl’). followthethings.com (http://followthethings.com/iphonegirl.shtml last accessed 13 June 2017)
Cook, I. (2013) The 14 best examples of shop-dropping… ever. followtheblog.org 23 March (https://followtheblog.org/2013/03/22/paper-activism-in-store-in-things-on-things/ last accessed 13 June 2017)
Woolf, S. (2017) Dear iPhone Girl. followtheblog.org 11 February (https://followtheblog.org/2017/02/11/guest-blog-dear-iphone-girl/ last accessed 13 June 2017)
Here’s another excellent example of journal writing from the Exeter Geography module behind our website. At the start of the module, we ask the students to add to their phone homescreens this photo of an Apple factory worker which, it seems, was accidentally left on an iPhone bought in 2009. The person who found this and four other photos posted them online and the quest to find out who she was, why photos of her were on that phone, and what would happen to her after they went pubic went viral (as documented on our followthethings.com page). We ask our students to keep her photo on their homescreens until the end of the module, for almost 4 months. What can happen to you when she looks at you every time you look at your phone, wherever you go? Sophie Woolf explains… to the person who became known as ‘iPhone Girl’.
In response to a student query today about the pride that factory workers can have in making consumer goods for others, I recommended that the two short films below were watched one after the other.
Both are about the notorious manufacturer of Apple and other electronic goods: Foxconn.
This is an extract from a documentary film in which young factory workers are interviewed in a photo studio across the road from the factory.
This is an episode of from the Al Jazeera TV series Activate, about the investigation into worker rights, health and safety in Foxconn factories by Hong Kong based NGO Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour.
Having become fascinated by the spoof ‘conflict free’ iPhone 4CF created by the Yes Men and students at the Parsons New School for Design in 2010, we have been following with fascination the creation of the Fairphone: a ‘real’ conflict free smartphone which will be out very soon.
Recently the Fairphone opened a ‘Pop-up Space’ in London, where they discussed this phone with people who dropped by. This short film about these pop-up discussions is well worth watching.
What was a ‘design fiction’ is now a reality… so what does that mean for the designers, makers, traders and users of smart phones?
I hope she doesn’t get fired, she looks so bloody happy! I will dedicate my iPhone homescreen to her for the rest of this week (Source: vegasdodger 2008)
To mark Mike Daisey’s publication of the transcript for ‘The Agony & Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’, we are publishing a draft followthethings.com page on the ‘iPhone Girl’ phenomenon which inspired his work.
In it, we research the origins of the story in a macrumors.com posting, its travels worldwide, and the conversations that it provoked. … This is now published on site here.
See Mike Daisey talking about how the ‘iPhone Girl’ photos inspired his work in this TV interview:
Check out our other pages on how the ‘Foxconn suicides’ newspaper stories coincided with the 2010 launch of the iPad in the UK (here and here) and the spoof ‘iPhone CF’ web page and action by the YesMen et al (here). In the summer of 2012, more pages researching Apple/Foxconn cultural activism will be added to followthethings.com, including Molleindustria’s PhoneStory app (see here) and Mike Daisey’s ‘The Agony and ecstasy of Steve Jobs’ (listen here).
Dr Ian Cook and his Geography students share ideas about their work on the hidden social relations between the producers and consumers of iPhones, money and other things.
Criticisms of the working conditions endured by Chinese factory workers assembling iPhones and iPads have reached a ‘tipping point’ in 2012. Front page feature stories in the New York Times and extended news stories on mainstream TV channels have brought to widespread public attention what trade justice activists have been campaigning about for years. Apple have responded by committing to more transparency in their operations, publishing a list of the companies that supply them, and promising to be more open about the results of ethical audits of supplier factories.
This tipping point has been the result of persistent NGO and media exposés but also of persistent and inventive forms of cultural activism: tasteless iPhone apps, Broadway monologues, spoof Apple websites and more which have helped to make this story stick in the public imagination, to tarnish Apple’s brand and to finally force the company to act.
In this Gown Meets Town event, we want to discuss a website that we have created to showcase these and many other examples of ‘commodity activism’: documentary films, art work, cartoons, journalism, web resources, academic and student work that follows everyday things, making connections between the lives of those who make and use them, trying to show that all everyday things have these lives in them, and thinking about the consequences of these connections. We want to discuss the relative merits of more ‘traditional’ forms of activism that try to engage people in trade justice campaigns through blame, shame and guilt, and the more playful, creative, bitter-sweet forms of cultural activism that aim to engage people in more positive ways. This is where our work on money comes in, and where we will discuss our ’Money talks’ exhibition at the Hub on the Green last December, where we created new forms of money-art-activism to think about the human stories in our cash, credit cards, and bank accounts.
What we want to discuss with those who come along are the ways in which forms of cultural activism can help to engage people of all ages, across formal and informal education settings, in often difficult discussions about what we can do to address the problems of trade injustice.
This session is free and open to all. The Global Centre can be found at Berkeley House on Dix’s Field, opposite the tourist Information Centre, next to the Southernhay United Reformed Church.
Notes to Editors
The Global Centre is an award-winning community centre committed to promoting cultural understanding through projects in Devon and around the world.
Contact details: Ghee Bowman at the Global Centre (01392 438811) or at home (01392 422216), email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, Global Centre http://www.globalcentredevon.org.uk/
Facebook page for the event: http://www.facebook.com/events/294676847255444/
The Gown Meets Town series has been running since November 2006, and has covered a wide variety of topics, from terrorism to Fairtrade, via feminism and Human Rights in Russia. The sessions bring together Exeter University and the wider county, and are an opportunity for postgraduate students and lecturers to work with a non-academic audience.
Ian is a cultural geographer and the designer and coordinator of followthethings.com, a spoof online shop, resource, database and fieldsite stocked with provocative ‘follow the thing‘ work by academics, students, filmmakers, artists, journalists and others. Ian left Teignmouth High School in 1983 to study at UCL, the University of Kentucky, and Bristol University, then worked at the University of Wales, Lampeter and Birmingham University, before returning to Devon to work in Geography at the University of Exeter in 2007.
Four Exeter University students will also be taking part in this event: undergraduate Geography students Eeva Kemppainen, Eleanor Bird and Tom Surr (all of whom have created new pages for the followthethings.com website and contributed work to the ‘Money talks’ exhibition), and Masters student Jack Parkin (who worked as a followthethings.com intern in the summer of 2011). Also attending will be Doreen Jakob, a Research Fellow on a ‘Craft geographies’ project who has started a yarn bombing group with followthethings.com materials.