Something’s bothering me about my mobile technology and public space post (besides sounding like an anarcho-hippie by talking about “reclaiming” something), and no one’s called me on it. I utterly failed to make a case for why these changes to public space might be bad.
My attitude towards social change is usually brutal: evolve or die (or, in less harsh terms, “go with the flow”). So am I being hypocritical here? Should I just accept the evaporation of third places and individualization/interiority of public space? Is my resistance to living a life with sound hampered by iPods, viewed through LCD screen of a digital camera mere neophobia?
I think for the most part the desire for public space to be shared is a matter of preference. It’s fine for some people to want to “opt out” by disappearing into the comforting nullification of headphones and laptops.And if we want to make a comparison – is “then” (the pre near-ubiquitous wifi and iPods time) better than “now”? I’d say no – high storage capacity mp3 players and free high speed internet in public places are great tools that have made many new experiences and activities possible.
Besides “just getting used to it,” I can think of two main avenues for the furthering of the public experience:
1. “Tech free zones.” – Adam Greenfield predicted long ago that one of the first business models in the “ubicomp” world would be “dead zones” where there was no ubicomp. (See his book Everware).
2. Technological solutions. More mobile social technology. There’s more and more of this sort of stuff coming out, we’re getting closer to the world envisioned in The Headmap Manifesto. Twitter seems to have taken off, but it doesn’t have any location awareness or “discovery” features (Dodgeball was close to this, but looks to be dead). Plazes seems interesting as well, but it’s never really taken off (I’ve never really used it… and it’s still in beta?).