York University


Sara Swain is a Ph.D. candidate in the Joint Program in Communication and Culture at York and Ryerson Universities. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Memorial, and an M.A. in Film Studies from Concordia. Her Master’s research focused on the cell phone’s implications for narrative film, while her current research explores mobility as a modality of media more generally, and tends to its historical, theoretical and discursive contexts.

A Seagull Stole My Camera: Non-Human Mobilities and Capturing the Animal Moment

The mobilities turn in the social sciences shifted our attention towards the systematic movements of people, goods and information and their larger implications. Mobilities research on such movements often focuses on the novel connections they forge and facilitate. The study of these interactions is often used to gauge their grander social and cultural significance to human worlds. To increase its epistemological yield, this paper suggests that mobilities research extend its purview to the systematic movement of non-human animals. Movements are increasingly mediated and facilitated by mobile devices. These devices are ubiquitous and deeply enmeshed in everyday life. They enable the communication and coordination necessary for travel, physical and virtual. More importantly, their growing portability, speed, accuracy and capacity also permit them to access spontaneous and ephemeral moments. From the available evidence, many of such moments consistently involve confrontations between mobile media and animals. This paper will closely examine some key examples of amateur photographs and videos that feature encounters between animals and mobile media. While there is an entire discourse on the victimization of animals at the hands of technology (i.e. roadkill), this paper hopes to explore the ways in which animals approach our technology with a seemingly playful or suspicious curiosity. Such moments are more than amusing anecdotes. They are artifacts that remind us that our media are not only occupying a more proximal presence in the human landscape, but in the world of animals as well. Considering the interaction between animals and mobile media encourages us to think outside the closed system of human exceptionalism, contemplate animal mobility, animal prehension, and finally the technological and sensual specificity of mobile devices.