Recently I watched the 2004 film Wicker Park, and a posh Chicago restaurant had a payphone is a private booth. One of the characters Lisa apparently didn't have a cellphone on hand, and had to retreat into that booth to make a couple of calls. Similarly I've attended conferences at post venues in the city, and twice I saw those private booths. Except there was no phone on the wall: They were evidently just private spaces for calls. I don't know how much patrons used them, though.
Enter, two researchers from Tel Aviv University.
Drs. Tali Hatuka and Eran Toch found significantly different behaviors between those who use smart phones and regular phones, that is, as far as private and public spaces were concerned:
Smart phone users are 70 percent more likely than regular cellphone users to believe that their phones afford them a great deal of privacy, says Dr. Toch, who specializes in privacy and information systems. These users are more willing to reveal private issues in public spaces. They are also less concerned about bothering individuals who share those spaces, he says.Reference: Smart phones are changing real world privacy settings.
I've used a wide range of smart phones - from BlackBerry, to iPhone and Galaxy Note - my grasp and use of them have increased, just as they've grown in technology sophistication. The thing is, they can be very absorbing indeed. When I am working, such as writing an article or thinking through a concept, I can be so absorbed that I dismiss the need to use the washroom and I cannot seem to be distracted. But it's one thing to be so absorbed in my private office versus on the train or at a restaurant. In particular, I have weaned myself from notepads and handwriting, and school myself instead to write on a Notes app on my smart phone.
This sort of phenomenon is what Hatuka and Toch call inside a private bubble, and the thrust of their research is what we do as we navigate public spaces. Evidently that private bubble rolls along to keep us inside it. It's of course not entirely safe to be so absorbed as I've been, but out in public I make a deliberate effort to ensure my safety as best as possible (e.g. looking up and around regularly, putting my shoulder bag where it cannot be easily grabbed).
While regular phone users continued to adhere to established social protocol in terms of phone use - postponing private conversations for private spaces and considering the appropriateness of cell phone use in public spaces - smart phone users adapted different social behaviors for public spaces. They were 50 percent less likely to be bothered by others using their phones in public spaces, and 20 percent less likely than regular phone users to believe that their private phone conversations were irritating to those around them, the researchers found.I know that Hatuka and Toch focus mainly on making calls when we're out and about, and I've definitely seen many instances of people with their phones glued to their ears, while sitting on the train or even as they're walking through the metal rumble of trains at the station and once in a while in the elevator, too. Unless they're obnoxiously loud, I am of that research group that isn't bothered by such people. But to be sure I avoid making calls myself, and if I do, I keep the call brief and my voice low. Over time I've become increasingly mindful of my surroundings in public and of the possible effects of my behavior on others. So while I may be in a private bubble, I know it is far from sight- and sound-proof.
However, some people are irritating while on their smart phones and similarly get irritated when others are on theirs. As the TAU researchers suggest:
The design of public spaces may need to change in response to this technology, not unlike the ways in which some public areas have been designated as "smoking" and "non-smoking."It may be time to have more of those private booths and to use them again.