Public Spaces and Faces: Tele Cocooning and Consent

Thanks for encouraging us to go out in the sunshine and roll around in fields in our underwear Passenger. The song is a very dystopic view of technology and society and how we (mentally and emotionally) switch off when we’re turning on.

The movie ‘Her’ is also a dystopic view of how tele cocooning (explained below) can create and generate real emotions, feelings and feel as though you are really, genuinely connected to someone.

And this video, is beautifully scary because I’m sure we’re all experienced one if not all of these scenes ourselves, and can’t help but laugh and immediately reflect on the last time you were out with friends.

But the ironic thing is… we’re all watching these videos through our technology whilst they’re questioning and challenging the invasion of technology! We’re trapped in the technology cycle! And it’s very easy for me to say all of this because here I am, sitting at a desk in the library, flicking between Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, texting and snapchatting from my phone, and spending half an hour to find the perfect playlist to study to on Youtube, using my phone and laptop as a nice little coccoon to keep myself from looking lonely. But if there’s so many of these messages coming from the media, why aren’t we paying attention?

A Cocoon with a Satellite dish attached to it. Source
A Cocoon with a Satellite dish attached to it. Source

I didn’t choose the coccoon metaphor out of pure brilliance. It was coined by Ichiyo Habuchi and tele cocooning is defined as ‘the communication of one person to the next without having physical interaction with that person’ (Cyborg Anthropology). So more or less something we do every day when we text, snapchat or email someone.

So when my friends and I went to Amigos on Tuesday night, we made a pact to stack our phones on top of one another, (trying) to ignore them, and the first person to reach for their phones had to buy a round of shots. It was awesome, we were laughing, talking and just enjoying eachother’s company. In fact, we were having such a great time that I just needed to capture it… but wait. My camera is my phone. This began a discussion on ‘am I allowed to grab my phone to take a photo?’ And got me thinking even more about why I wanted to take this photo.

Selfie before cheers, always. Source
Selfie before cheers, always. Source

According to the concept of tele cocooning ‘sharing photos is tied to a sense of co-distribution and this becomes a reflexive process of self-authoring and viewpoint construction’ (Cyborg Anthropology). This raises so many other questions like ‘do we value the people we’re talking to on our phones more?’ ‘do we just have a short attention span?’ ‘are we actually using our phones to our advantage/to help us?’ ‘why are our phones more valuable than our friends?’. 

My friend Zina studying at the library
My friend Zina studying at the library

I believe that tele cocooning isn’t all doom and gloom. I snapped the above picture of my friend today at the library as we were studying together. Despite studying ‘together’ we were in completely separate worlds. Each time she would say something to me, I’d have to stop my music and take my headphones out and then ask her to repeat what she’s just said. She was studying Spanish and I’ve been blogging and getting distracted by watching trailers for movies. However, Zina explained she was using her phone to look up a word in Spanish and was using her laptop to print class notes.

After I’d taken the picture, I showed her and asked if she liked it and if I could use it for my blog post. She obviously said yes but asked what it was about. And fair enough, I wouldn’t exactly want a random picture of me studying on a random blog. But whilst exploring tele cocooning, I stumbled across another issue with technology. Photography and consent. I blurred the faces of 5 people in the background of this photo that I didn’t ask for their permission to take the photo. As Colberg says ‘photographers may agree that what they’re doing is fine, but is the public OK with it?’ (Colber, 2013). However, as you can still see, they each have a laptop in front of them and whilst they are studying in a group, they’re not really interacting as a group.

PhotoShares guidelines for consent for photography. Source
PhotoShares guidelines for consent for photography. Source

The questions and concerns that arise from tele cocooning are complex and get you reconsidering every moment you spend on your phone. The fact of the matter is, we’re all dependent on our technology and scoeity wouldn’t function without it. As Seiter explains ‘it’s important to have a good balance of being connected and disconnected from technology, and using this technology to benefit our relationships’ (Seiter, 2015).

Sure, it may have taken me an extra hour or so to write this blog post because I’ve spoken to my Nan on the phone, texted my friends, snapchatted my struggle of trying to be productive, and downloaded a new app, but at the end of the day… I’ve got my work done and been able to keep in touch with my family and friends. What more could you want?

References

Colberg, J 2013. ‘Ethics of Street Photography’, Conscientious Extended, 3 April, http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/extended/archives/the_ethics_of_street_photography/

Cyborg Anthropology, Tele Cocooning, http://cyborganthropology.com/Tele-Cocooning

Seiter, C 2015, ‘The Psychology of Selfies: Why we love taking and viewing photos of the face,’ Buffer Social, 17 June, https://blog.bufferapp.com/psychology-of-selfies

Further information

The following post ‘Unified in social media but segregated in reality’ by Amelia Murphy, takes a good look at how technologically saturated some public spaces can be. Along with her great, sneaky photography, she analyses how technology is such a big part of our lives and how we’re always connected.

The following post ‘Sweaty public places: the 55C and the gym’ by Red Canister Diaries (in my opinion) absolutely nailed the art of observing how people interacted with technology in the public space.

The following article looks at the Psychology of selfies. 

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