In Classical times people would flock to the town centre to participate in discussions about politics and just generally be part of social life. This was the basis for Habermas’ model of the public sphere which relies on the notion that people will naturally gather in public space to discuss politics and culture. However, in recent times technology has had such a huge impact on public life that the concept of the public space is becoming a very blurry one.
According to Amin (2006) a successful public space will “increase opportunities to participate in communal activity. This fellowship in the open nurtures the growth of public life”. He identifies these spaces as being places like city centres, public transport, restaurants and public parks. Amin goes on to talk about how these spaces are incredibly important to maintain in order to nurture positive feelings in people about one another, but also recognises that public spaces are treated very differently today than they were in Classical Rome. Today public spaces are developing a much more private element as well, with people neglecting to interact in real life in favour of the virtual world. It seems people will put in the effort to leave their homes and enter the public space, but then treat it like a private one.
I went out for dinner with a couple of friends last night (the picture isn’t of me) and we spent a good amount of time on our phones being “social”. When I was waiting at the train station this morning I felt like the odd one out because instead of staring at my phone I was looking at and taking in the world around me (albeit to see how many people would be on their phones). While walking around uni I saw whole groups of people sitting together but not speaking in favour of checking Facebook. I am definitely not claiming that I am any different to this- on the contrary writing this blog has made me much more aware of how much time I do spend on my phone, but it is a very strange phenomenon. It seems to me that for a generation which is defined by how much easier being social has become through the rapid improvement of technology, we are making ourselves antisocial loners.
Now I just need to go check my phone.