Phone Etiquette in Public

This week’s task in BCM240 was to take a photo of somebody using a mobile device in public. To be honest, I hadn’t really given the task much thought until I had my photo taken whilst eating lunch with a friend. My friend took the photo of me whilst I was looking down at my phone, completely unaware of the fact that it had happened. He then proceeded to post the photo of his Snapchat story, without my knowledge. He hadn’t mentioned he’d taken a photo of me until after the photo was posted, without me even seeing it, or allowing him to use it.

The first thing on my mind was that I had not given my friend permission to take that photo, but more importantly, why were we both on our phones whilst having lunch together?


I definitely did not ask for this. Attractive though, right?

The way we use public space has dramatically changed over the years, particularly due to the introduction of personal mobile devices. Public space is a place where we can also make use of our mobile devices to dive into our own private spaces, without needing to share that experience with the people around us. We can be active in both public and private spaces simultaneously by just opening up a social media app on our phones.

According to Habermas et al. (1989), the public sphere is a space where individuals can come together to openly discuss public opinions (Soules 2016). The private sphere on the other hand is one’s personal domain that is separate from the rest of the public eye (Habermas et al. 1989). Smart phones allow consumers to switch between these two spheres, without needing to alter their surroundings. It provides people with a shift between a virtual and physical world within a matter of milliseconds. And perhaps this notion of simplicity and ease of access to personal devices is the reason why both my friend and I were on our phones during lunch.

Whilst the photo that was taken of me allowed to to think about public and private media practice, I still did not allow my friend to take the photo in the first place. There are a few clear ethical barriers that had been crossed during this sneaky photo shoot. Firstly my friend did not ask for my permission to take the photo of me in the first place. Whilst it is perfectly legal to photograph somebody in a public place, it doesn’t mean it is ethical, and gaining consent before taking a photograph is a simple ethical guideline that is to be followed (Colberg 2013). Secondly, I did not give my permission for this photo to be posted in social media, which is my opinion is an even bigger no-no. Again, there are no laws that stop someone from taking a photo of you and uploading it online (LawStuff 2015). Speaking ethically, permission should be granted before doing so. However due to the introduction of smart phones and their constant in public spaces, this kind of this happens more often than not.

So the moral of this recount is, whilst it is perfectly fine to use your personal devices in a public space, always check with your friends before uploading hideous photos of them to your Snapchat story.

Until next time,


Colberg, J 2013, The Ethics of Street Photography, Conscientious Extended, viewed 2 September 2016, <;.

Habermas, J, Burger, T & Lawrence, F 1989, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, MIT Press, Massachusetts.

LawStuff 2015, Privacy (Online), LawStuff Australia, viewed 2 September 2016, <;.

Soules, M 2016, Jurgen Habermas and the Public Sphere,, viewed 2 September 2016, <;.


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