Week 6: Public And Private Mobile Experiences

Remember last week?

I went to a cinema, and sat down in a quiet space, and waited for a few hours. It wasn’t a particularly interesting experience, you know. I don’t think I quiet conveyed correctly what it was like to sit in one space, and do nothing beyond what I could do on my phone.

Coincidentally, it was perfect time to ruminate on the observations of other people observing me on my phone. I saw a pair of older people, with some kids, who walked past me, and I overheard a complaint about ‘glued to their phones,’ which I suppose I deserved, considering the oddness of what I was doing. The funny thing was, this is a fine hallmark of something people think of as public – it was a moment when people felt they had the right to judge what I was doing and comment on it. Haven’t we all done that? Look at someone, and then snidely tell someone else we’re with what we think of them?

This contrasted with the last time I spent a large part of the day looking at my phone. I worked a table at SMASH!Con 2014, the anime and manga convention in Randwick racecourse. In this space, I had to stay in one spot, a public space, and seeking mementos, called people over to the table so I could take a photograph of them and share it.

When I did this, as a matter of principle I always asked:

Can I take your photo?

Is it okay if I share it online?

Do you want the twitter account where they’re being shared?

In every case, I made absolutely certain I had all three of those questions answered. When I encountered an Arietty cosplayer, who was herself, maybe six or five years old? I asked her father’s permission to ask her. Then, when I took the picture, I provided the father with the twitter account so he could follow up on the photo if he or she had a problem with it.

The strangest thing about this, for now, is that these phones create the potential for surveillance from a personal level. This is typically referred to sousveillaince. This lets us bring to bear our views of accountability on other people – but it also diminishes feelings of personal agency in public spaces. While sousveillance has a value when dealing with power structures – such as police, in Ferguson, Missouri – it still represents to other people a potential loss of implied privacy in public spaces.

Really, we rely on public spaces to forget.