Smart phones have revolutionized the way we communicate, but researchers at Tel Aviv University say the devices also are changing our traditional perceptions of privacy, especially in public places.
Dr. Tali Hatuka of TAU’s Department of Geography and Dr. Eran Toch of TAU’s Department of Industrial Engineering have teamed to measure the impact of smart phones on privacy, behavioral codes, and the use of public space.
Their early results indicate that although spaces such as city squares, parks, or public transportation were once seen as public meeting places, smart phone users are more caught up in their technology-based communications devices than their immediate surroundings.
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 Toch, who noted 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.
Hatuka adds that smart phones create the illusion of “private bubbles” around their users in public spaces. She also postulates that 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.”
To examine how smart phones have impacted human interactions in public and private spaces, the researchers designed an in-depth survey. Nearly 150 participants, half smart phone users and half regular phone users, were questioned about how telephone use applied to their homes, public spaces, learning spaces, and transportation spaces.
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 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.
According to the researchers, smart phone users were also more closely attached to their mobile devices.
When asked how they felt when they were without their phones, the majority of smart phone owners chose negative descriptors such as “lost,” “tense,” or “not updated.” Regular phone users were far more likely to have positive associations to being without their phones, such as feeling free or quiet.
The next phase of the study will be a more in-depth analysis of how smart phone users incorporate this technology into their daily lives. It will require users to install an application that the researchers developed called Smart Spaces, which is designed to track where the participants go over a three-week period and how they use their phones.
The researchers say this will give them a better idea of how smart phone users interact in both public and private spaces during the course of a typical day.