Personally, I feel quite uneasy when I find myself in a space full of strangers. Not necessarily in the sense that I feel unsafe, but as though I’m not allowed to really interact with those around me. So I find myself turning to a source of comfort and an escape from the socially awkward content of being in public with strangers. I turn to my phone and use it as a means of escaping into my own little digital bubble.
And yet today, for many of us the notion of being without a phone is uncomfortable. Everyone seems to be constantly posting, texting, hashtagging and blogging in their own private world of their phone.
The Collins English dictionary defines public and more so public spaces as “open and accessible to all.” On the other hand, private is identified as “belonging to, or concerning a particular person or group…” and “away from public view.” I’m going to argue that while, these definitions may shape our understandings of these spaces, there are other factors present that alter this.
When you think about it, are our mobile devices really private if, when we use them in public, others nearby whether we know them or not, may be able to see what we’re looking at, scrolling through or posting. Yet most of the time, we still consider it as a private space and rarely think about who else may be tuning in. At the same time, we’re not exactly “away from public view.”
Citylab reporter, Emily Badger observed how smartphones are altering people’s behaviours in public space. Essentially, we’re acting as though we’re in private. She specifically discussed how we use these devices as a means of escaping states of being in tranist, such as on public transport (Badger, 2012). Drawing from research by Tali Hatuka from Tel Aviv University, Badger notes how smartphone users are understanding the basic concept of public space.
According to Hatuka, the fact that smartphones enable us to reside in our own “portable private personal territories” is complicating the public/private binary. Suggesting that the “private sphere” is now dominating public space (Badger, 2012). Hatuka’s research ultimately poses this question, when focusing on your private sphere through your smartphone, when in a public space, which social code should you follow? Should you follow public etiquette, where you look up and acknowledge those around you? Or, follow cell-phone etiquette where you need to respond to a message as soon as possible? (Badger, 2012)
Obviously, smartphones in public are complicating the way we identify spaces and conduct our behaviours within them.
For example, I catch the bus home from uni every week, and at exactly the same time every Tuesday a gentleman will board the bus to commute home. The reason why I recognise this man every week, is that at the same time on that Tuesday, he will go on his phone to call, who I assume is his son, and ask what he would like for dinner. Now, usually, I’m not one to willingly eavesdrop on someone else’s conversation, however this man’s voice is so loud that I’m sure the whole bus knew that, no he wasn’t buying McDonald’s but that he would buy some steak and roast some pumpkin and potatoes and would be home in about an hour.
Normally, I wouldn’t really have given this man on the phone a second thought. However, this week I stopped to think if this gentleman would at all be uncomfortable if he realised just how loud his conversation was and that all of us on the bus could hear. Which brings me to my point, our mobile devices allow us to feel secure and as though we are dwelling in a private space, but when used among members of the public, it is likely your digital bubble will be burst by those around you. And we barely recognise this.
Admittedly, I’ve done the exact same thing! My phone has rung and I’ve answered, and momentarily while on my phone I do forget there’s others around me, or at least assume they can’t hear me. Let’s be honest here, you all can. Similar incidents have occurred when I’ve accidentally clicked on a video on Facebook or opened a snapchat video, and my phone is not on silent. For a moment, I’ve grabbed the attention of those around me, whether I know them or not.
That’s all for tonight,