Public Etiquette?

There are more and more ways than ever to make being alone in a public space less awkward. We have phones and iPods and public televisions. There is no reason to engage in people-watching and less chance of making uncomfortable eye-contact with a stranger.

I catch the bus to uni, and it always amazes me how silent it is. It seems that most people travel alone. Occasionally you hear the faint whispering of a person’s earphones. Many people are texting friends or scrolling Instagram. Some of the more inconsiderate people are making phone calls.

There are funny little antisocial behaviours that are expected when you are on a bus. For example, when the bus opens its doors to let more people on,  there is  a spare seat beside beside them, many people, if they weren’t already, find something to do on their phones. They want to appear impassive; not too stand-offish but not too eager.

Fortunately for me, people mostly stay in their own, device-oriented bubble. Bus trips are relatively calm affairs.  However, sometimes, when people start to break the rules, like what happened here, the private bubbles pop, and the event becomes very, very public:

Catching antisocial behaviour on smartphones and posting it to YouTube has become a normal occurrence, and there are thousands of examples.

In many cases, this can be seen as a way of publicly raising issues that need addressing, such as racism on Sydney public transport. It is a positive step in creating change.

However, are there cases when this is unjustified? Does just being in public  mean anyone can take your picture or a video and splash it across the internet?

This quick guide to the legislation regarding photography in public places  says that 95% of the time, you can take a photograph of anyone or anything in a public space, as long as it is not for commercial purposes.

Still, I go to the park not expecting to have my photo taken by a stranger. Regardless of the legislation, there is etiquette in place.  We use our phones to disappear into private space while in public space, but rarely expect images of ourselves in public to be available to anyone other than the people in that space at that time.

It seems, while there is legislation in place, our behaviour in public is dictated by a strong sense of public etiquette.

The main ideas seem to be: don’t attract attention and don’t make eye-contact with strangers.



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