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Coffee Shop Conversations: Virginia Zamora

By Larissa Weinstein

Context: Virginia Zamora is an artist and passionate advocate for unplugging. We talked about her views on the role technology plays in our lives and her latest project, a children’s book called Hey Zoey! Get Off Your Phone! All visuals in this article were created by Virginia.

A Vision and a Children’s Book

We started off discussing Hey Zoey! Get Off Your Phone! Virginia worked with comedic writer Dan Fox on a children’s book about phone addiction- she illustrated and he wrote.

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The premise of the book is that Zoey prefers playing on her phone to playing with her friends in real life- until she trips and falls into her screen and can’t get out. When she is finally able to return to the real world, she vows to spend more time with her actual friends than playing games on her phone.

Phone addiction is something Virginia has thought about since the rise of smartphones. She looks back to 2011-2015 when she noticed how distracted people had become on the train. She was also interested in interactive art and made ironic posters about not paying attention.

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As she continued putting her art out into the world, she made friends and connections with other artists and with people who connected with her work. That’s how she met Joe Hollier, the founder of the Light Phone. The Light Phone takes analog technology and allows you to leave your smartphone at home but still receive and make important calls to loved ones.

One day Joe was chatting with comedian Dan Fox, who mentioned wanting to create a children’s book. Joe immediately thought of Virginia. When she met up with Joe on her birthday, Dan happened to be there and they’ve been collaborating ever since.

With his comedy background, he’s taught her to be a better collaborator through the use of improv techniques like “yes, and…” which is the concept of building off of each idea instead of shutting them down to present something new. They’ve built a completely platonic partnership based on a shared passion for encouraging our generation to unplug.

Virginia describes Hey Zoey! Get Off Your Phone! as the Wizard of Oz meets Alice in Wonderland. The entire creative process was a strong collaboration with give and take between words and illustrations.

The content needed to be long enough to entertain an older child, but not so long that it became a chapter book. Every little detail was thought out- for example, Zoey wears socks because she’s an indoor kid and doesn’t like going outside.

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Now that they’ve created this book, they’re looking toward new projects and ways to express their passion for unplugging. They view the book as simply one manifestation and expression of this passion.

She was partially inspired by Tim Ferriss, an author and speaker who posits (among other things) that people think passion projects need to be monetized to be valid but really they’re about scratching your own itch to create. They wanted this to exist, and now it does.

They funded the first printing of the book on Kickstarter, and since they still haven’t found a publisher they plan to self publish the second printing. There will be a launch party and a website with resources about unplugging, such as instructions for a DIY phone bucket to keep your phone out of sight and out of mind.

They’re not active on their social media right now because there’s nothing to announce or promote at the moment. Practicing what they preach, they don’t want to post for the sake of posting so they’re waiting until they have something to say.

Up next, they hope to hold an anti-technology event in which they will gather what they’ve termed a senius. A senius is a group of people with like-minded ideals. Their collaborative partnership is based on this passion for encouraging unplugging, and she’s excited to see what future projects come of this.

Technology in the Creative Community

I asked her to tell me about how she applies her philosophy about technology in her daily life and work. She tries to interact with social media in a meaningful way; she doesn’t want to just gloss over interactions online.

To do this, she sets aside time specifically for technology. Otherwise, it just bleeds into everything and becomes the default way to fill any moment of free time.

“The same way you dig your big toe and your pinky toe into the ground trying to hold a yoga pose, dig into that moment of quiet and solitude when your dinner companion goes to the restroom.”​

At the same time, she loves going on Instagram to look at other artists and be inspired. To keep perspective, she likes to journal at the end of the day about people she saw physically and people she interacted with emotionally using her phone. When she checks in on her friends, she wants to know how they’re really doing, regardless of what they’re posting on social media.

Consuming and Producing Media

When it comes to consuming media, she tries to be intentional and maintain a healthy dose of skepticism. Consuming and producing are intrinsically linked in her life and work, as it is for most of us.

She uses her iPad for digital art and sometimes finds herself instinctively brushing away eraser scraps that aren’t there. She also uses it to listen to podcasts and occasionally watch HBO or Netflix for documentaries.

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She fully recognizes that her work is part of the reason people are online in the first place, so she tries to be careful not to contribute to the noise. In her graphic design work, people are hiring her to create an experience for the user. She aims to be intentional and straightforward so that people can get the information they need and get off the website.

She loves The New York Times and The New Yorker, especially because they support illustrators. She also loves reading and specifically lending books- she subscribes to a minimalist philosophy and strives to repurpose and recycle materials. She looks at yummy things on social media, and looks to her friends’ work for inspiration in her own art.

She feels a struggle as a producer because she feels responsible for contributing to an oversaturated content landscape, but firmly believes that if you’re genuine about your contributions the people you reach will see that.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic was an influential book for her. From Gilbert, she learned not to underestimate the value of her unique viewpoint. A particular topic might have been done already, but it hasn’t been done by her, from her perspective.

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The other side of this equation, of course, comes when she reassures friends that they shouldn’t feel like they have to create content for the sake of creating content.

“You’re not going to fall off the face of the Earth if you don’t post on social media.”​

If they want to create content, they should create content, but she feels like many of her friends and peers are creating content out of a need to participate because they’re watching and comparing themselves to friends who are heavily participating.

As Dan likes to say, it’s about not reacting to your technology and shifting control back to the user.