The Private Mobile Device User and the Home as Hotel

Part of my dissertation will explore how mobile device usage (e.g., laptops, cell phones, iPads) affect our conceptions and practices of the private and public. Throughout the last century, the development and purchase of various communication technologies have caused anxiety around the public/private distinction and helped in its restructuring. Carolyn Marvin, in When Old Technologies Were New, explores this around the telephone, and others have explored it around the telegraph, radio, and television.

One cut into this (one I’ll probably not be focusing on this aspect in the diss) is the ways that the uses of new communication devices affect the home. I was contemplating this after reading Cole Camplese’s recent blog post about how devices like the iPad might be restructuring the living room: a place where everyone is using a different mobile device to consume (and/or create?) media.

I don’t necessarily see this as anything new for some. For some, the model of the living room where everyone watches the same television set is still true, but for others, the idea that everyone could be in the same room with different media is pretty old: someone watching the television, someone reading the paper, someone playing their Gameboy.

The most common model over the last few decades, though, might be one person in the living room, one person in another room watching a different television, another in yet another room with a video game, etc. This wasn’t true for me until I was in high school and finally got a CD player, but when I’d visit friends in elementary school (late 80s, early 90s), there was a definitely a separation of family into separate rooms for media consumption. Krishan Kumar, in “Home: The Promise and Predicament of Private Life at the end of the Twentieth Century,” writes about the increased privatization of the home, where the home has become more like a hotel in recent years, modeled on the market with private individuals who live together (224-230).

Cole’s point that mobile devices like the iPad might bring people into one room, where they all consume media on different devices, might be a possibility. Much like a coffee shop, the living room could be a place where people sit as individuals (or small groups) and consume content, with only occasional interaction. (The being, of course, a problematic oversimplification.) In what ways are mobile devices contributing to a restructuring of homes—perhaps as a place where we “live” as private individuals rattan than as a home?

Photo credit: Nicholas Smale’s Flickr

PS: I wrote this on my WordPress app on the iPad, and had so many problems! Hopefully it’s easier next time I write a post using the app.

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