Posts Tagged ‘iPhone apps’

Street Hipstography: Where Voyeur Meets Social Media

April 24, 2014

This article was originally published in The Times of Israel.

Bruce (photo credit: Sheldon Serkin)

Bruce (photo credit: Sheldon Serkin)

If you are in New York, don’t be surprised if you appear in one of Sheldon Serkin’s photographs. But there’s no way to know he’s taken your picture: He never holds his camera up to his face, and he never makes eye contact — let alone speaks — with his subjects

Serkin is part of the growing mobile phone street photography trend in which images are surreptitiously captured of daily lives, oblivious to the lens pointed at them. It’s a democratic kind of photography, enabled by the advent of the iPhone and digital photo apps that let anyone try their hand at becoming the next William Klein, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Frank. The genre is often referred to as hipstography, after the Hipstamatic app, which became popular in 2010 and gave the trend a huge push.

“I like being able to do it undercover. I like that I don’t draw attention to myself, because I don’t like confrontation,” Brooklyn-based Serkin tells The Times of Israel.

Click here to read more.

© 2014 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


Trying To Lift The Fog

September 27, 2010

Americans For Peace Now "FOG" iPhone app

A lot of people – on both ends of the Israeli political spectrum – are concerned about Facts on the Ground (FOG) these days. I’m talking about the facts on the ground in a specific place, namely the West Bank.

With the moratorium on building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank having expired at midnight yesterday, settlers and their supporters were celebrating by revving up bulldozer engines, pouring concrete and releasing huge numbers of blue and white balloons into the air. Click here to read/listen to Sheera Frenkel’s report on this in this morning’s Morning Edition on NPR.

While the settlers were busy establishing more physical FOG, the left wing Peace Now (Shalom Achshav) organization was busy disseminating a more virtual variety of the concept. Late last week – just in time for both Sukkot and the moratorium deadline – Peace Now released a iPhone app that enables users to see every single settlement on a “layered” map and access information about it. Whatever your political bent, you’ve got to admit that this new technology sure beats those old, unwieldy overhead transparencies.

I, of course, just had to check this app out, and I downloaded it immediately. Upon opening it, I was greeted with the following: “You can use this application to explore data we have collected about settlement activity. Zoom in and select an individual settlement to see details such as its population trend. Go to the Layers page to customize what data is shown on the map, or to zoom into particular areas.” I zoomed in, and I did, indeed , access said information.

Among the helpful features, are the options for viewing the West Bank Barrier, The Green LIne, Area A, Area B, Israeli Settlements, Settlement Markers, Outposts, Jerusalem’s Municipal Border, the Old City of Jerusalem, E1 (not sure what that is), and the Hebron Municipal Area.

Peace Now calls its app “One powerful map. One set of facts.” The tagline is, “The debate about peace for Israel just changed …forever.” We’re just going to have to see about that, what with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu failing to renew the building moratorium and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas threatening to pull out of the latest round of American-sponsored peace talks.

It’s not yet at all evident whether having the FOG so clear and accessible is going to have any real effect in lifting the political fog that is obscuring the way to a lasting peace.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

God And The iPhone

January 20, 2010

"HP" stands for Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence)

Recent events in earthquake-devastated Haiti have made me wonder a lot about the religious concept of hashgachah pratit, or hasgacha pratis, as Ashkenazic-accented Hebrew speaking Orthodox Jews like to say. Very religious Jews believe unquestioningly in Divine Providence, the idea that God is involved in every aspect of the daily life of every person on earth. And not only the lives of people, but also what happens to animals and in nature. “God appoints an angel and tells it to  cause a blade of grass to grow. Only then does that tiny blade flourish,” we are told in a midrash from Bereshit Rabbah (10:7). It’s such a big thing that there’s even a website called and a Hasgacha Pratis Facebook page , each being a means for internet users to share their personal accounts of Divine Providence.

Dan Woolley and his wife Christina at the hospital in Florida

Of course, the concept of Divine Providence is not exclusive to Jews, with many devout people from different faiths believing in it, as well. This is exactly what got Dan and Christina Woolley, a religious Christian couple, through a very trying ordeal this past week. As Dan lay injured and trapped in the rubble of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, he maintained his faith in God. “I wanted to survive, but I knew that was something that I couldn’t control,” he said in an interview with Meredith Viera on NBC’s Today Show after being rescued and brought to Florida for medical treatment. Dan’s wife, Christina, also called on her strong faith in God’s omnipresence as she sat for days not knowing her husband’s fate. She was sure that “wherever Dan was, God was holding Dan in the palm of his hand. I just didn’t know if that was in Haiti or in heaven. I was begging God that Dan would still be in Haiti.”

While he was trapped, Woolley, a father of two young sons waiting for him at home in Colorado, wrote notes to them in case he did not make it out alive. He wanted his boys to know, that “I was in a big accident. Don’t be upset at God. He always provides for his children, even in hard times. I’m still praying that God will get me out, but He may not. But He will always take care of you.” In essence, he was conveying to his sons a similar message as can be found in the Midrash Rabbah (39:1), which relates the following parable: “A person traveling down an unfamiliar road noticed a magnificent palace in flames. He looked around, expecting to see the owner running with buckets of water to extinguish the fire. The palace appeared abandoned, however, and he wondered aloud, ‘Is it possible that a palace like this has no owner?’ At that moment the owner of the palace looked out and declared, ‘I am the owner of the palace.'” In other words, the world may be in bad shape and life and property can be lost, but not to worry because God is in control.

Dan Woolley's bloodstained notes to his sons, written as he was injured and trapped in the rubble

I, as someone who struggles with the existence of God and who finds myself a believer one day, an agnostic the next, and an atheist yet another, have always had a hard time wrapping my head around hashgachah pratit. If there is a God, then I doubt that He/She would be inclined toward delving into the minutest mundanities of my life, or anyone else’s. I believe that God’s presence resides in and makes itself apparent through the ever increasing knowledge, capabilities and kind acts of human beings. This, together, with luck and a lack thereof, governs our world and fate.

Dan Woolley, a filmmaker, was fortunate to have had his digital camera around his neck and his iPhone in his pocket when the earthquake struck and the walls came down on him. Somehow, he had the presence of mind to flash the light from his camera in various directions and snap images to help him figure out what was around him and whether there was a safer area in which to try to shelter himself. He also used a first aid app on his iPhone to learn how to take care of his badly broken and bleeding leg and head wound until help arrived. Wolley followed the app’s instructions to set the alarm on the phone to go off every twenty minutes for 65 hours so he would not lose consciousness and go into irreversible shock.

One of many first aid iPhone apps available

There are different ways to interpret Woolley’s survival and rescue. Maybe faith was involved. Perhaps it was luck and timing. It could have been hashgachah pratit. The way I see it, Dan Woolley survived in part because God was in his iPhone. It could be that the parable about the burning palace is meant to be understood differently. God’s not being immediately apparent could be taken as His/Her wanting people to use what God has given them (the engineering knowledge to produce an iPhone, for instance) to take the lead in repairing the world and putting out the flames, both manmade and natural, that are imperiling Creation.

I have to admit, though, that my theory about Divine Providence and my preferred understanding of the parable of the burning palace were tested only hours after learning of Dan Woolley’s rescue, when I read in the Wall Street Journal about the survival of an 8-day old newborn girl (now 15- days old) who was pulled from the rubble unharmed a week after the earthquake. Her crib fell from the second floor of her house, but it was not crushed, and the tiny baby managed to survive without water or nourishment for seven days – half her life. Despite my usual doubts and questioning, it would seem that, at least in this case – where there are no mitigating factors nor iPhone apps involved – hashgachah pratit is alive and well.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.