An artist collected anonymously AirDropped images on the subway in a pre-pandemic relic of spontaneity
- Jumi Kim, an NYC-based designer, exchanged AirDropped images with strangers on the subway in 2019.
- Her project, titled "AirDrop Everyday," now showcases the images that she sent and received.
- I was one of the people who anonymously connected with Kim on the subway in 2019.
While commuting to school in 2019, Jumi Kim, a New York City-based designer, noticed how absorbed people on the subway were with their phones.
Over the course of several months, she undertook an operation using Apple's AirDrop feature - which is built-in on Apple devices and uses both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology to share files - to connect with strangers on public transit by anonymously exchanging images. The project recently went public with "AirDrop Everyday," a massive Google Sheets document that serves as a record of all of the AirDropped missives Kim sent and received on the subway from April 4, 2019, to September 25, 2019.
The results are wide-ranging: there are pictures of pets, snippets of city life, "SpongeBob" screenshots, memes, and the occasional explicit image. Among them is one of my own photos, which I sent to Kim after we made virtual contact on the subway late one night.
—Palmer Haasch (@haasch_palmer) July 8, 2019
Previously, AirDrop made headlines for people using it to send unsolicited graphic or explicit images. In mid-2019, The Atlantic reported that teens were using it to bombard strangers with memes in public places. Anecdotally, I regularly received AirDropped memes at every concert or fan-focused event I attended pre-pandemic to the extent that I came to expect it.
"I think I met so many strangers through AirDropping in a non-traditional way (not through social media platforms)," Kim told me over email, over a year and a half after we had AirDropped back and forth. "It was amazing that some people out there were willing to share their life with a random 'Airdropper' through a photo."
'Airdrop Everyday' started from Kim's desire to use technology to break up subway isolation
Kim told Insider that as a designer, her goal is to "create things to make people happy and smile." Her AirDrop project wasn't intended to bother people, as she stated on the public document. Rather, she wanted to provide fun surprises for riders using pre-existing technology.
In March 2019, she opened AirDrop on the subway and was "stunned" by the number of names she saw.
"I looked around and pretty much everyone was looking at their screen. That's when I wanted to do something with AirDrop for a project," she said.
Kim said that she was conscious that others, particularly women, may have a fear of receiving sexually explicit AirDrops from strangers after having gone through her own experience with AirDrop harassment on the subway. The GIFs she sent while making initial contact were bright and colorful; some contained statements like "this is a harmless GIF" and asked how people were doing.
Many of the AirDropped photos are memes or otherwise funny images
At first, Kim started the project by simply sending friendly GIFs to people on the train, and occasionally received something back even when she didn't ask. "Once I got one, I became greedy," she told Insider. Eventually, she started asking for responses.
The "AirDrop Everyday" spreadsheet is a hodgepodge of images from New Yorkers, but it's overwhelmingly dominated by memes and reaction images plucked from the average user's camera roll.
That observation plays into pre-existing AirDrop trends: as one teenager told The Atlantic in 2019, many anonymously AirDropped photos tend to be funny memes or other attention-grabbing images. From late July 2019 onwards, Kim's AirDrop solicitations contain a clause that she prefers users' own photos rather than memes.
"Besides loving cats and dogs pictures, people really love memes and I realized people saved a lot," Kim told Insider. According to her observations, Friday and Saturday nights were the best times to get AirDrops back, and the M train was where she got the most responses.
Ultimately, 'AirDrop Everyday' is an exercise in human connection
I distinctly remember making contact with Kim on the subway. I was on my way home from KCON NY (a K-pop convention and concert), which was held at Madison Square Garden on July 7, 2019; it was late at night and we were on the M train crossing the Williamsburg Bridge - a fact that Kim corroborated when we reconnected in 2021 to talk about the project. It was a bright spot in what had been an otherwise solitary day.
"AirDrop Everyday" has been on pause for over a year due to Kim's thesis work and the ongoing pandemic. For now, it exists as the public Google Sheet, which she compiled in December 2020. While she has aspirations to continue the project (perhaps in other cities), she misses the packed subways from pre-pandemic days and seeing people turning to seat partners to see if they had received her AirDrop.
"People do enjoy these little surprises, like serendipitous moments," she told Insider. "It was nice that AirDrop was a little trigger for imagination."
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