When does the private become public, when should the public be private?

The distinction between public and private space is increasingly blurred, a division difficult to make, and this is very much a product of our convergent culture and online lifestyles.  A public space, by its very nature is a social space that is generally open and accessible to all people regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age and sex.  Compared to a private space which most people would automatically relate to their own home or space owned or controlled by the individual. Annet Dekker  in her article PPS: PublicPrivateSpace: where the public space turns into private space and the private space opens up to the public notes that “the rise of digital technologies has changed our ways of communication….these technologies, from iPods to mobile phones and GPS receivers, have a large impact on our feeling and use of spatial dimensions, leading to the observation that the area of our cities is no longer determined by physical space alone. Moreover they transform our public space into a private space and vice versa” So when the two become intertwined, when we take activities traditionally kept and exercised in a private space and suddenly thrust them out into the very public, incredibly scary and sometimes misunderstood world wide web – when does the private become public, and when should the public be private?

Is the distinction between public and private space a malleable concept when it comes to social media and online sharing? Or is the distinction still there, just ignored by those who feel protected by the safety and shielded by their perceived anonymity while sharing in a public space but maintaining physically present in a private space?This is an interesting concept fleshed out by blogger Senthorun Raj in his article Grindring attachments: Loving, Hating, and Dating, published on The Vine in September 2012. Currently a Churchill Fellow investigating the constructions of sexuality and gender identity in refugee law and policy, Senthorun (Sen) explores , Grindr, a social networking application for same-sex attracted men with over 6 million users worldwide, in an attempt to illustrate how online dating has not only reframed the way we think about sex and love, but also invited us to rethink the associated distinctions between public and private space. What I found most interesting about Sen’s exploration was this idea of people being completely blinded by the public/private distinction when sharing online.

Social media is a public space, but at the same time our online profiles are entirely created and mediated by the individual. Even if it is a virtual platform, much like Facebook and Twitter, Grindr is a community of people (or more specifically profiles) interacting so why then is it ok for people to act differently in a public online forum than they would in an ordinary physical public space or even on public television. Sen gives the example on Grindr of when “personal preferences” take shape in rhetorical statements like “NO FATS, FEMS OR ASIANS” or “Be younger than 26; or the block button becomes essential,” Lets be honest, if you were out at the pub on a casual night out and a guy walked on up and started conversation by saying he was looking for someone to take home but ‘no fats, fems or Asians’ or made a similar crude remark they would most probably be met with a fist in face. The pub is just as public as an online forum is it not? Are we bound by social etiquette only because we are physically present in a public space? Does the fact that you are controlling your own social platform blind people to the fact that what they are posting is still in a public space?

According to Dekker “the contemporary city has moved into virtual space. A virtual public space that enables forms of sharing and exchange that was previously unimaginable” . Using Grindr as an example Sen’s article has left me with some questions. Where is the distinction between public/private space when it comes to the internet and social media? How is it recognised clearly by us as a culture that certain things are okay in private but no so much in public and why don’t the same standards transcend the boundaries of our online and offline worlds? It seems to me that our physical, tangible presence goes a long way in mediating our shared attitudes and behaviour in a public space.

References

TheVine – Grindring attachments: Loving, Hating, and Dating – Life & pop culture, untangled. 2013. TheVine – Grindring attachments: Loving, Hating, and Dating – Life & pop culture, untangled. [ONLINE] Available at:http://thevine.com.au/life/thoughts/grindring-attachments-loving-hating-and-dating-20130423-241801. [Accessed 7 August 2013].

Dekker, A, 2008. PPS: PublicPrivateSpace Where the public space turns into private space and the private space opens up to the public. 14TH INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON ELECTRONIC ART, [Online].  140-141. Available at:https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/105904/mod_resource/content/2/Where%20the%20public%20space%20turns%20into%20private%20space%20and%20the%20private%20space%20opens%20up%20to%20the%20public.pdf[Accessed 07 August 2013].

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