Not seeing Faces in Public Spaces

The following photograph was taken at the bus stop at the University of Wollongong. As mentioned by (Maloney, S 2016), the use of media is prominent in times of waiting. It is not uncommon to see students staring at their phones while we wait for the bus to arrive, to then sit down and continue using these devices. Instead of communicating with others around us, we generally tend to submerse ourselves into our digital lives, whether it be texting, scrolling through social media or listening to music.


I guess I could call myself a ‘street photographer’ in this instance, capturing a candid shot  in a public space which, in my opinion, reflects society’s dependance on technology. I was conscious of privacy and discretion when taking the photo and blurred visible faces in order to protect identity. As outlined by the Arts Law Centre of Australia,  it was important for me to consider who I was capturing and what they were doing and whether this would be a threat or offence to them in anyway. For the purpose of this blog, the students will remain anonymous and I stress that the focus is on the activity of the students (use of the mobile device), rather than who they are. Taking into account ethical matters, I will undoubtedly take it down if requested.

I think the image is a good example of media use in public spaces. In a Master thesis written by Suse Miessner, Interacting in the Public Sphere, Miessner provides a theoretical framework that analyses the public sphere and the impacts of new technologies on human behaviour. The public sphere is defined in many ways in this thesis, however is essentially described as a space that appears to everyone, constituting a reality of different points of view (Arendt, H as cited in Miessner 2012 p.51). Another idea that arises is the purpose of the public sphere, in that it’s to connect all private life’s. Ironically this can be argued, as media, in particular mobile media, is changing the way humans interact (or fail to) in the presence of distracting mobile phones and media facades (p. 82).

Today is it a lot easier to take advantage of the transportability and variability of mobile media and new developments are changing the nature of communication and how we act and interact in public spaces (Miessner, S 2012 p.96). To highlight this, the thesis discusses three different practices that arise in public spaces – Cocooning, Camping and Footprinting (Ito et al. 2007 as cited in Miessner 2012)

  • Cocooning refers to sealing oneself from public life due to the personalised environment that mobile media provides. It is most commonly used on public transport and describes my captured image quite well.  It is a means of turning spaces that are not of personal interest into personalised places by setting up a personal micro-scape (Ito et al. 2007 cited in Miessner, S 2012 p.97p.96)
  • Camping involves establishing personal workplaces in public spaces through mobile technologies (Ito et al. 2007 cited in Miessner, S 2012 p.97). Similar to cocooning, camping involves personalising public spaces however also involves the emotional attitude towards the space changing.
  • Foot-printing relates to leaving a mark in a particular shop or transit infrastructure by using customer cards, reward systems, access cards or similar systems and promote interchangeability of public spaces (Ito et al. 2007 cited in Miessner, S 2012 p.98).

These three practices are definitely changing the way people act in the public space due to mobile media. They are particularly undermining the notion of the ‘public sphere’ as they help create personalised spaces and change emotional spaces. I think cocooning is the most prominent practice within the public sphere but what are the implications of this? Individuals are paying more attention to devices than their friends and others around them suggesting a greater sense of disconnectedness. Whilst I agree to a certain extent that the help of media in the public sphere can create a sense of comfortability for individuals, I also think it’s still so important to be aware and pay attention to our physical surroundings.


Maloney, S 2016, ‘Personal devices and Public Spaces,’ lecture slides, BCM240, University of Wollongong, viewed September 2 2016

Miessner, S 2012, ‘Interacting in the Public Sphere: How New Media Influence our Behaviour in Public Space,’ Master Thesis, Bauhaus-Universitat Weimar <;

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One Response to Not seeing Faces in Public Spaces

  1. Pingback: Note to self: Pay attention | danielle johnson

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