FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Death of Social Space

IPods are way cool, of course. But an unintended consequence of everyone (everyone young, that is) listening to one on personal headsets is that our sense of public space is changing, and not necessarily for the better.

Author John Naughton writes in the Guardian that personal music players, cell phones and the like are "coccooning" people so that they no longer interact when out in public. He writes:

The proportion of young people who never venture out in public without first putting on headphones is astonishing. And yet one rarely sees anyone over 40 similarly equipped. This will change with the maturing of generations who have grown up with headphones welded to their ears. And as a result, our concept of social space will change. Imagine the future: a crowded urban street, filled not with people interacting with one another, but with atomised individuals cocooned in their personalised sound-bubbles, moving from one retail opportunity to another. The only sounds are the shuffling of feet and the rock muzak blaring from the doorways of specialised leisurewear chains.

He compares this self-absorption with films shot in the early 20th century that show people conversing, being aware of their surroundings and considerate of other people.

Naughton's conclusion: personal technology changes behavior on a very personal level, making it easy to isolate one's self even when out in a crowd. Technology like iPods and cell phones are simply the latest entrants into a trend that began with the automobile and the suburb, which remove people from urban spaces and isolated them on a very physical level.

Socioligist argue that this has already affected the fundamental ways in which we relate to one another. For instance, we teach out children (correctly, sad to say) not to talk to strangers, that unfamiliar people are to be feared. This lesson carries over into adulthood. So why risk talking to anyone when you can listen to your iPod?

The loss of social space will continue to have profound consequences for the way our urban (and even suburban) spaces function, and the richness that we derive from the vibrancy that they used to generate. However, there's evidence that some are fighting back, especially against obnoxious cell phone talkers.

Source: Wired, Clippings.reblog