How did I “pass” the time in public before my phone?

Ever notice how when you’re in a small public space, let’s say a train, that if everyone else is immersed in their phones, you would feel uncomfortable being the only one not?

Areas of commute aren’t the strongest example, but are a start.


Traditional public spaces, like cinemas, are managed by traditional ideals balancing risk (strangers), opportunity (profit), logistics (scheduling) and obligation (health & safety) (Evans, 2016) These traditional ideals are transcended by mobile technologies. Creating an interesting duality created by the emersion of mobile devices into the public sphere and our day-to-day lives.

Where I think this comes into play when discussing the use of devices in public, is that they hold the potential to hinder someone’s collaboration in a harmonious public space. To explain, this may affect other people or just that individual. For example, have you ever been so into a conversation on Messenger, that you’ve walked through a little-red-man says ‘don’t walk’ light? I have. Admittedly, more than twice. This doesn’t just affect my safety and schedule, it can have an effect on those who might encounter me in traffic. This is a simple case of distraction, sure.

But it begs questions surrounding the focus of this week like, what it means to think of space outside the home as becoming semi-public? How is it being changed through the use of private mobile devices?

What do mobile phones mean for this? Is it a public space within a public space. Do they adhere to different rules? Here we encounter two publics, which by definition is ‘of or concerning the people as a whole’ (Mirriam-Webster). The one on your phone and one in reality.

The creation of a semi-public space

The implications that mobile phones have upon public spaces was looked at relative to public photography; particularly of people.

Being asked to photograph someone using media in public and reflect on the ethicality of it drew some really interesting insights. I felt extremely uncomfortable with the idea at first, because, well it’s really creepy.

Keeping in mind that we were going out with the direct intention to take photos of people for a subject, not to be malicious or invasive. Ethics are called into question on a larger scale about photographing strangers in public, but in essence, it comes down to being a decent human being and recognising the right to other’s privacy if they so request it or you feel as though you wouldn’t like the same done to you.

‘Some courts come to the conclusion that law of Australia has not developed to the point of recognising an action for breach of privacy, while others have held that an invasion of privacy was an actionable wrong which gives rise to a right to recover damages according to the ordinary principles governing damages in tort.’ (ACLA, 2016)

‘Can I take a photograph in public that contains images of people I don’t know? Can I take a photo of a famous landmark or of the front of someone’s house and later sell it?’ (ALCA, 2016) The answer is yes. But don’t be a jerk.

Who’s public is this? Who’s public is it anyway?

Ambient television how I love you

Before Netflix, and before it was damn easy to watch on-demand, I used less than ideal(legal) methods to stream television. I often didn’t directly view the shows, just used them as background noise and for whenever I got distracted from whatever else I was doing. I still do this with good old trusty broadcast television. (Thanks for getting me through my assignments, Bachie)

Ambient TV, the same kind, is used in a plethora of public spaces. Actually most, in some form or another. Waiting rooms, dentist chairs, aeroplane seats and fridges apparently(?) to name a few. This week I was introduced to Dafna Lemish’s outline of the rules of ‘watching’ television in public spaces;

  1. Viewers adjust to the social rules of the setting (airports, pubs and gyms are different kinds of spaces)
  2. Viewers adjust implicitly to other viewers (trying not to block view etc)
  3. Viewers orient to the screen even when not watching
  4. Viewers are open talking about what’s on screen, or talking back to the screen, or might talk to the screen, but also use public screens to avoid strangers

The most interesting things I draw from these four rules is 1) that they apply to every single example I can imagine of television in public places, irrespective of the variance in place type and 2) that even when there may be no-one watching the television in public, it still manages to change behaviour and social discourse.

When do we draw the line between ambience and when does it become invasive and an unnecessary distraction? Are we passing time assume that it’s something that needs to be passed? Are there more entertaining or productive things we would or COULD rather do?

We have a long way to go in regards to regulating the use of phones and other media in public places, as the definition of public as such is changing. Smart devices hold so much capability in terms of functionality and there is a lot of cross-over into the public realm therefore an exorbitant amount that needs to be considered. However, general mobile phone etiquette is a start…





Arts Law Centre of Australia 2016, Information Sheet – Street Photographer’s Rights, p.2, accessed online,

Dafna Lemish, “The rules of viewing television in public places”, Journal of Broadcasting, 1982

Evans, N 2016, ‘Personal Devices and Public Spaces’, lecture, University of Wollongong

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