Last week, I had to take my elderly neighbour to the hospital as she fell over and needed a few stitches. Whilst sitting in emergency for who knows how long, I took the time to observe how people around me interacted with one another. But to my surprise, they didn’t.
Eyes were glued – not literally, I know it is emergency but no one had actually glued themselves to their phone – to a myriad of illuminated handheld devices or necks craned to see the TV screen replaying a soap opera. Crying children we handed a phone or tablet to distract them from their pain, teenagers looking like mummies, all bandaged up, texted and scrolled through Facebook whilst their parents did the same. Rose and I simply sat there, reminiscing as it makes her “not feel like such an old, clumsy bugger”.
This is what is happening to our public spaces, they are encroaching on private as we all curl around our devices to seem occupied and as Sherry Turkle (2012) says, “increasingly alone together”.
But what defines something as a private or public space? Miep (2011) asks who makes the rules? Private spaces tend to be controlled by one or limited owners and this ensures that they dictate the rules over the area they deem to be theirs; houses, offices and businesses are common private spaces. Conversely, a public space is one that is opened to many and has democratic rules which are entrenched in us as children – does anyone else remember their parents scornfully saying through their teeth, “we’re in public!“. These spaces are shopping centres, parks, gyms and airports.
So whilst we all sit there in our own little world and refuse to look up, take notice and engage with the world around us, we miss the little things. In saying that, our shopping centres have released that we are now time poor, working when we get home and when we are out. But do not worry, they have a myriad of TV screens screeching at you about a wonderful fry pan, “all yours for just $59.99! It’s a steal!”.
Most technologies are starting to redefine and reshape most of our lives and it is no different for public and private spaces. Our public space’s characteristics are beginning to blur with what defines the public sphere. Is this a bad thing? Or is it simply progressive?
P.S. Just in case you were wondering; Rose is back home and doing well and I now have a lifetime supply of homemade strawberry jam – Rose’s speciality
Miep, A 2011, ‘Public Space vs. Private Space: Four Questions’, Daily KOS, viewed 7 September, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/03/13/956112/-Private-Space-vs-Public-Space-Four-Question