People, Places, and Things

The psychology of design: How to create an environment in which you will thrive

Privacy and Smart Phones

Technology's influence on the experience of privacy.

Privacy is important to humans because it gives us control over our current and future experiences.  In private situations, we share our selves and our information with those we select, when we select.  In the West, walls and doors have traditionally been used to keep private stuff for intended eyes and ears only. 

New research indicates that smart phones are setting our concept of privacy on its head.

Drs. Tali Hatuka and Eran Toch, from Tel Aviv University have learned that (according to a press release issued by the American Friends of Tel Aviv University) “although spaces such as city squares, parks, or transportation were once seen as public meeting points, smart phone users are more and more caught up in their technology-based communications devices than their immediate surroundings.”  People using smart phones “are 70 percent more likely than regular cellphone users to believe that their phones afford them a great deal of privacy, says Dr. Toch . . . 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.” 

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According to Dr. Hatuka, “smart phones create the illusion of ‘private bubbles’ around their users in public spaces.”   The researchers also learned that “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 adapted different social behaviors for public spaces. They 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.”

This research is particularly significant because it clearly delineates ways in which technology continuing to evolve our relationship with our physical world – ties that have developed over many generations.

Sally Augustin, Ph.D., is a practicing environmental psychologist who studies person-centered design and sensory science.

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