Revised 22 November 2016


Increasingly, what constitutes ‘public’ and ‘private’ is problematic to define. Technology is blurring boundaries, providing the capacity to engage “…in a calculating co-presence” through use of smartphones (2012 :17).  Individuals attend physical places whilst interacting with virtual spaces accessed through digital connection. K, Varnellis et al (2012) declared “Public space became increasingly privatized and virtualized, with networks of individuals being replaced by television broadcast networks, and individuals becoming less and less citizens and more and more consumers.” (2012: 18). Discourses of technological mediation, tethering and docility frame my argument. Technology makes us docile and passive to our surrounding environments, Rappaport, A. claimed “[People]… make congruent their behaviour with the norms for behaviour appropriate to the settings as defined by culture.” (Rappaport, A. 1997). We dive into our phones when experiencing discomfort, offering protection from external threats associated with public areas. Evidently, technology is altering our behaviours and sociability’s, Turkel, S. argues “We are shaped by our tools. And now, the computer, a machine on the border of becoming a mind was changing and shaping us.” (2006: x).

“Public” spaces are regarded as expansive areas for connection. However, increasingly spaces are becoming ‘privatized’ by our electronic dependencies. Sherry Turkle described our devices as ‘portals’ into virtual dimensions (Turkle, S. 2006). We are experiencing a convergence between physical ‘public’ spaces and virtual ‘private’ spaces. When examining ‘Castle Park’, I witnessed patterns of behaviour emerge. ‘Private’ and ‘Public’ interactions were often elicited through smartphones. An Asian family were posing in Autumn scenery, snapping photographs of one another with an iPhone. Their behaviour seemed raw and natural as they interacted freely within the surrounding space, speaking loudly, exchanging smiles and laughter. This seemed candid and genuine and free from premeditation or external influence.

Traditionally, family interactions consist of face-to-face and intimate engagements. It is intriguing to mention how such seemingly genuine family behaviour (within a public space) was prompted by a smartphone, despite being surrounded by strangers.

New forms of interaction have developed whereby technology is acting as a ‘buffer’ or ‘tool’ of social engagement. Here the device used to take photographs acts to bridge a barrier between two entities, connecting on distant levels (through the medium of photography) but also experiencing disconnection as the device diverges attention; limiting the quality of intimate family activity. “Increasingly, what people want out of public spaces is that they offer a place to be private with tethering technologies… in fact, the spaces themselves have become liminal, not entirely public, not entirely private.” (Turkle. S. 2006 : 3).

‘The Ister’ (2011) explored Bernard Stiegler’s analysis of post-human existence, stating that “Man is nothing other than technical life” (2011: 4:57). I would argue that now human existence and interactions are constituted and maintained by automation, these devices allow the opportunity for co-presence within public and private spaces. Our devices act as prosthetic upgrades and add-on that extend our capacities for interaction. Advancements in media are altering our perceptions of spaces, “Smart phones, in short, have given users the impression that they move through communal spaces as if in private bubbles” and that it “may even degrade the way we recognise, memorise and move through cities.” (Badger, E. 2011). As our interactions and dependency on technology intensifies, our relations and experiences of the spaces around us alter dramatically; obscuring the definitions of public and private spaces.

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