Is this space public or private?

Everyone has a smart phone these day and we no longer have to be sitting at home on a desktop in order to access the internet, the internet comes everywhere with us and this opens up many doors for interacting with media within public space.

Within Badger’s article she speaks to Tali Hatuka, who heads the Laboratory for Contemporary Urban Design at Tel Aviv University, who states,

“The whole idea of public/private as binary is becoming much more complex. Instead of thinking about public and private, we have to think about the private sphere becoming more dominant in public. For the smart-phone users, they’re totally, constantly engaged with the private sphere, and it’s reducing the basic roles of public space.”

While walking around a public space like the university it is impossible not to see people on their smart phones everywhere and even though we are in a public space, we never really know what anybody is doing on their devices, creating their own private space.

This is discussed within Hesse’s article ‘Publicly, a whole new lewdness’ as she discusses the experience of a mother whose young children were exposed to pornography on an aeroplane after a man sitting next to them decided that was the perfect moment to watch porn on his phone. So while you’re sitting in a public space on your phone the private bubble that you’ve created might not be as private as you think.

This opens up another question, are people who are within public space, and on portable devices, in their own private space or still within public space? While Hesse compares public media consumption (particularly inappropriate public porn watching) to second hand smoke while Badger believes that we are in trouble of losing important aspects of our public sphere.

“The communication of strangers was always one of the key roles of public spaces, observing and exchanging with the other. Because smart phones are supplying so many of these services, this kind of exchange with the stranger is just diminished to almost zero.”

Hatuka and her colleague Toch also conducted a survey asking participants about what they remembered of the public spaces they had visited just minutes earlier. Through this survey they were able to determine that smart phone uses were not paying attention to what was around them, which lead Hatuka to believe “that the ubiquitous smart phone may even degrade the way we recognize, memorize and move through cities.” However these are just two separate opinions of private and public space, what do you think?

Finally, I’ll leave you with this final quote from Hesse,

“Perhaps this is the real problem: the increasingly blurred boundary between public and private. If we are so accustomed to burying our noses in tiny screens, carrying our entertainment in and out of the house, perhaps people are simply getting confused as to where they are.”

Badger, E. 2012. How Smart Phones Are Turning Our Public Places Into Private Ones. The Atlantic Cities, (online) 16/05/2012. Available at: (Accessed: 10/08/2013)

Hesse, M. 2009. Publicly, a whole new lewdness.The Washington Post, (online) 12/11/2009. Available at: (Accessed: 10/08/2013)


One thought on “Is this space public or private?

  1. This was a very insightful blog post on the distinction between what’s private and what’s public when using a personal media devices in the public sphere. The vast array of sources used were very helpful in describing this question, particularly that of the blurred lines between what’s public and what’s private, elaborated by Hesse.

    You really made me think about the use of my mobile phone in a public space, although I am using it for personal use is it affecting those around me? Is it no longer private because I am using this form of media in a public arena? Personally I think we all need to be more careful when indulging in the use of private media when in the space of other individuals, especially after you discussed a story of the many who “watched pornography on his mobile in front of two young children”.

    However, what also needs to be recognized is that personal media devices such a mobile phones can also create a public sphere in it’s own right. For example, a mobile phone can be used by a group of friends to watch a YouTube video, or to share links about the events at uni bar.

    Media devices have there positives and negatives in relation to private and public spheres…You touched on many great points!

    Job Well Done! 🙂

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