[iDC] Poking holes in the public-private gradient

Matthew Waxman mwax at ucsc.edu
Thu Aug 3 03:33:00 EDT 2006

Hi Mark,

These travel reflections from Japan are truly fascinating! 
 My brother recently studied in Japan and spoke of many of 
the same things.

One thing he also likes to talk about is how in Japan the 
"fictional" and the "real" are blended. Is this something 
you also noticed when there?

 From what I've heard, what is considered "virtual" and 
"real" do not have the same separation that they do for us 
in the west, but rather, in following from tranditional 
Japanese literature, the fictional, virtual, and 
imaginitive worlds permeate through different expressive 
media... whether it be manga, anime, cellphones, 
advertising media, cute toys, or emaki (picture scrolls... 
super cool). Thus the increasing integration of computing 
technology into the landscape of the everyday, 
physical-world only further illustrates (as one might say) 
the fictional and virtual world and presence in the books 
of human lives which we each write every moment into our 
memories, reflections, ideas, and acts.

Today I was at the Sony Metreon in San Francisco and 
stopped to wander through the Sony store where they had 
the new Play Station Portables (PSP) on display. These 
little handheld devices have quite a sizeable screen with 
high resolution, and (like the ipod video) enable the user 
to become sucked right into the immersive on-screen world. 
 What struck me while testing these toys was how fun it is 
to get sucked in (simple thing also experienced with other 
video games and cinema) and how the effect of 
"split-belief" between the fictional and real is so 
important in terms of the human being, in particular to 
satisfying a desire to manifest the fictional and virtual 
into the real, but not quite into the real itself, instead 
only half-way where you're actually experiencing the 
fictional but its still virtual.  This also  has 
consequences for what is public and private (is a public 
fictional world public or private if it is privately 
accessible in the public?).

I like how you point out the importance of this in terms 
of architecture. It's definitely changing how people think 
about themselves in relation to their contexts at both 
local to global scales.

 From what I've read online, it appears that your Tactical 
Sound Garden Toolkit also explores this?

Truly fascinating and something I'd like to learn more 

Along similar lines, I find the "1st DoCoMo International 
Architectural Design Competition 2005" to be really 
interesting. The theme: "Keitai City": 
http://www.japan-architect.co.jp/docomo/en/ and
"Theme discussions" 

I used the DoCoMo pieces as reading in a student directed 
seminar I taught this past spring at UC Santa Cruz, titled 
"City within a City: cinema-architecture-environment" 
where we used architectural design and theory as process 
tools for experimental video work examining themes and 
problems of the modern city and its futures. My syllabus 
and course info: http://www.modro.org/film42j/

Looking forward to ZeroOne ISEA!
-Matt Waxman

On Sun, 23 Jul 2006 23:31:04 -0400
  Mark Shepard <mshepard at andinc.org> wrote:
> As Frazer Ward suggests, there is no publicity without 
>> It seems to me that privacy and publicness may be more 
>> wound together than ever, so that while we try to 
>> relations between what we might call micro-publics and 
>> formations, we need not to forget the private realm, or 
>> has become of it.
> If anything, the problem might be in the tendency to 
>think through  the relations between public and private 
>in terms of a strict  dichotomy. Neither exists in a pure 
>state, and more often we  encounter subtle hybrids of the 
>two in the course of everyday life.  By recasting the 
>public-private debate in terms of a gradient rather  than 
>a split, we might better understand the conditions 
>producing  forms of privacy and publicity in contemporary 
>cities, and how  certain technologies enable one to poke 
>holes into an otherwise  smooth continuum.
> Tokyo provides a number of examples. Consider the 
>physical fabric of  the built city. While dense urban 
>centers like Ginza, Marunouchi,  Shinjuku and Shibuya 
>present conventional (western) public-private  boundaries 
>established largely by continuous street facades, roaming 
> off the major thoroughfares introduces an entirely 
>different set of  conditions. The scale shifts 
>dramatically, and the broad linear  street gives way to 
>narrow winding pathways defined by two or three  story 
>buildings with little concern for declaring clear 
>boundaries  based on property lines. Rather, a series of 
>transitional spaces  (stairways, entrance areas, informal 
>gardens of potted plants  spilling onto the sidewalk, 
>side alleys filled with bicycles, an  occasional 
>fishtank) mediate between the publicity of the street and 
> the privacy of the home. It can be difficult to sense 
>the limits of  where you can wander. The traditional 
>Japanese house extends this  transitional zone into the 
>house itself, where the ground plane is  drawn into the 
>foyer for receiving visitors and where one removes  one's 
>shoes prior to stepping up into the more private domain 
>of the  interior (cf. Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story).
> At the same time, along these side streets it is common 
>to find  vending machines (a truly ubiquitous technology 
>in Japan - you'll  even find them atop Mt. Fuji) embedded 
>into the exterior walls of  private buildings or situated 
>in the gap between two properties.  Here, the public is 
>directly embedded within the private,  transgressing the 
>artifice of the property line.
> On the other end of the spectrum, Tokyo's major train 
>stations are  labyrinthine structures within which the 
>distinction between public  and private is often 
>ambiguous. In these stations, multiple rail  systems 
>(Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway, Japan Rail (JR), and the 
>Keio,  Odakyu, and Tobu lines) overlap, some of which are 
>publicly  controlled, others private concerns. Connecting 
>these different  systems is an extensive warren of 
>underground passages, replete with  restaurants, shops, 
>and a multitude of services for the weary  commuter. The 
>transition between public corridor and private shopping 
> passage is easily missed, sometimes only expressed 
>through minor  surface variations. Shinjuku station has 
>over 60 exists, some  spilling into department stores, 
>others onto the street. Taking the  Ginza line to Shibuya 
>station lands you two floors above the level of  the 
>street in the bowels of the sprawling Tokyu department 
>store. The  sectional building diagram indicating where 
>you are when you get off  the train mysteriously(?) 
>leaves out any reference to the ground  plane. Finding 
>one's way out to the street can take some time.
> Now, one could say there is in fact no such thing as a 
>physical  Public Sphere in Japan, at least in Habermaas' 
>terms of a space for  friction, conflict, and 
>confrontation that forms the basis of open,  democratic 
>public space. "Public space" here appears to be governed 
> by a set of protocols aimed at avoiding confrontation at 
>all costs by  introducing a modicum of politeness in 
>public settings. Nowhere is  this more evident than in 
>the protocols for mobile phone use. When  riding the 
>subway, graphic signage instructs you to set your phone 
>to  "manner mode" - sound off, text messaging only, 
>please. Talking on a  mobile phone while riding the 
>subway is uniformly frowned upon.  Within the social 
>condenser of the subway car, private exchanges  transpire 
>beneath the threshold of public awareness via text 
> messaging. Tools for maintaining privacy are also found 
>in the mobile  phone itself, where "secret mode" enables 
>you to erase any history of  calls to or from a specific 
>number. Great feature for the  philandering spouse or 
>amateur spy.
>Further, the popularity of mobile audio devices like the 
>iPod points  toward a desire to personalize the 
>experience of the city with one's  own private 
>soundtrack. The city becomes a film for which you compose 
> the soundtrack. These devices also afford the listener 
>certain  exceptions to norms of social interaction within 
>the public realm.  Donning a pair of earbuds grants a 
>certain amount of social license,  enabling one to move 
>through public space without necessarily getting  too 
>involved, and absolving one from some responsibility to 
>respond  to what’s happening around them. Some people use 
>earphones to deflect  unwanted attention, finding it 
>easier to avoid responding because  they look already 
>occupied. In effect, the device becomes a tool for 
> organizing space, time and the boundaries around the 
>body in public  space.
> So it would appear that on almost every level, the 
>physical  organization of a city like Tokyo subverts any 
>clear demarcation  between public and private. Rather, it 
>is in the tactical use of  technologies such as the 
>mobile phone or the iPod that create mobile  zones of 
>privacy within highly public situations. This has 
> significant implications for architecture, traditionally 
>charged with  delimiting thresholds between public and 
>private. How might  architecture respond to the impact of 
>these "personal territory  machines"? How might the 
>design of the mobile technologies benefit  from 
>considering issues of privacy and publicity in the 
>(broader)  terms of architecture and urbanism?
> +
> mark shepard
> +
> http://www.andinc.org
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