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Tao Lin's iPhone Photos of Taipei

Facedown Generation

May 7, 2013, 4:50pm

Over the next month, in celebration of the forthcoming release of Tao Lin's latest novel, Taipei, we will be featuring a weekly selection of photos taken by the author during his recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan. While there, he took thousands of pictures with his iPhone, pictures which he has divided into albums titled things like "Taipei fashion," "Taipei carbs," "Taipei babies," and "Taipei animals," among others. The images were taken between January and February 2013 during one of his semiannual visits to the Taiwanese capital, where his parents live.


This week's photos are named after a term* in Taiwan, which Tao's mom says she first heard on TV, for people who seem unable to stop looking at their phones while in public.

All photos and captions by Tao Lin.

*literal translation from Mandarin is something like "head-lowered ['group' or 'troupe']."

Taipei will be released on June 4 from Vintage and is available for pre-order now. To read an early excerpt from the novel that we published in 2011 titled "Relationship Story," click here.

This woman is staring at her Samsung Galaxy thinking, "what am I trying to look at? what is my finger wanting to push?" The screen is black.

The teenager with white shoes is trying to convince himself that no one can see what he's looking at and that, even if they could, he shouldn't feel embarrassed, or whatever, because he's only, at the moment, looking at his Gmail account. The man in the red-striped shirt is trying to cancel his Boingo account for what must be, he thinks, the 20th time, or something insane like that, in probably not even a full year.

This man is rereading an article titled "CNET Asia's Top 10 phones." His LG Optimus G is ranked number seven. He doesn't know how he feels about this. Being worse than six phones, on a list of ten phones, seems bad, but being listed at all—how many phones are there? hundreds? thousands?—seems good.

This man, not wanting to appear like he's ignoring his son to look at his iPad, is pretending to photograph them, with Taipei 101 in the background, as he quickly checks if his tweet from a few minutes ago, tweeted while similarly kneeled in a pretense of photography, has been favorited or retweeted—or replied to, or anything—yet.

Eighteen minutes ago this woman decelerated and parked on the side of the road and turned off her vehicle and began looking at the internet. She did this for no reason except that "stop what you're doing to look at the internet" was an option in her life.

This person has been trying for almost half an hour to edit "I am desperate for a reason to live" into a tweet that won't make people worried. She hates her life.

This woman image-searched "asian sylvestor stallone" and is about to enlarge an image macro of the Rock that says "IF I CAN RAISE MY EYEBROW LIKE THIS / IMAGINE WHAT ELSE I CAN RAISE ;)."

This woman is weakly trying to discern if it's 2012 or 2013.

This man is googling "weirdest whale or dolphin." He has zero interest in whales, dolphins, or the "weirdness" of either. He hates his life.

This woman is frustratedly reading a semi-incoherent, rambling, off-topic post on a nonofficial message board after frantically googling how to unlink a Twitter account from a Facebook account after accidentally linking her private Twitter account, featuring mostly nonhumorously bleak observations about her life, to "The Official Taiwanese Facebook Presence of The Dalai Lama." (The Dalai Lama's people hired her for the position of "social media manager" a week ago because she lied on her resume about having worked for both Twitter and Facebook.) Seated opposite her and asleep, listening to Norah Jones' 2nd album, is her father, who she sees once a month.

Mother and son—seen here resting on a bench near the Jiantan MRT station—are, unbeknownst to each other, both "zoned out" "big time." Neither knows what they're looking at or thinking about and only the son is aware, in a vague way, of being somewhere.

This child is looking at photos of Mars.

These siblings, smartphone prodigies, are idly hacking into Netflix's databases, slightly altering the algorithms relevant to the category "Understated Dramas" so that Rain Man will always be recommended.

This child feels a strong attraction to a still, from Chunking Express, of Faye Wong in an airport kneeled on a moving walkway looking steeply up at something out-of-view. He's afraid his friends will tease him if they see him looking at it, so he is looking at it while in motion, when the image will appear blurry to anyone not himself.

The teenagers on the sofa have posted "any parties" on their respective Facebook walls and are currently waiting for responses.

Previously - Taipei Carbs

Follow Tao on Twitter @tao_lin