Michael Grimes-Rillorta, Ryan Brower, Dana Bolton
Imagine this. You’re speaking with a friend about a lover who has spurned you, or how you hate your professor because of their unfair assignment schedule. Simple, right? Now imagine you did this in an area that housed over fifty people within close proximity of one another. While you are reading this, you might become conscious of the inherent risks one takes when sharing their most personal opinions and affections, but one would be hard pressed to say you were not guilty of participating in similar behavior. And you are not alone.Entire populations of people--students, pedestrians, coworkers, etc--engage in these sorts of activities daily under the assumption that they have privacy in a public space, even as the reality of openness that define their environments. But why? In the discussion that follows, we elucidate how sites of congregation are often imbued with the “illusion of privacy”, and we consider how this illusion invites patterns of private actions in a public setting.. This illusion is reinforced by the lack of visibility from certain security cameras and the nature of these sites as areas of gathering which disguise potential opportunities for surveillance. Finally, we consider how publicly performed private acts reveal personal data through anomalies in behavioral patterns, especially as it works in Columbia, South Carolina.
A site of congregation is anywhere that people meet for a specific purpose or for the purpose of the meet. It can be confused easily with a site of consumption, because people will
commonly congregate at a site of consumption, so for clarity purposes, it can be said that a site of congregation is anywhere that people choose to meet without the intent of purchasing or acquiring anything. (General examples include a park, a library or even an individual’s personal dwelling). These sites are not very clearly defined, and can be anything from an established public institution to a private home. Congregation is all about gathering. People choose to meet in a library or people choose to meet at someone’s house. While in some cases a group could meet or form through random chance, such as a random group of people who went to a specific site separately and formed a group for a common goal, they still intentionally went to that place with a purpose. They chose that place. It’s all about what is socially acceptable and what the intent of the group is. That is another necessity of a site of congregation; there must be a group. Whether this group intentionally arrived together, or met by happenstance, or is even an unrelated group of people who happen to be in the same place at the same time, groups are really what define sites of congregation because of their nature of gathering despite the reasoning. This raises the theory that a site of congregation is not necessarily a physical space; the group itself is a site of congregation. Patterns begin to emerge in these kinds of places. People generally go to a specific place in order to do something specific, so in any given place a pattern should be noticeable if one watches the groups of people long enough. Obviously these patterns depend on the place in specific which is what makes a site of congregation slightly more difficult to define because a pattern of one site would not apply to a different site, though the two are grouped together. What one sees at a library (i.e. studying, reading, generally being quiet) would definitely not coincide with what one would see at a bar (drinking, lots of social interaction, etc.). To get even more specific, the behavioral patterns observed at one movie theatre may not
necessarily apply to another movie theatre. This makes sites of congregation a loose coalition of places with almost nothing in common held together by nothing more than that people frequent these places in groups. It is interesting to watch these patterns and see how they emerge: what are people doing and why? Why did they choose this site as their meeting place? What are the benefits of a publicly oriented congregation site as opposed to a privately owned one? Once these patterns are established they can be easily predicted.
In one of the previous mass observation reports a student was tasked with observing the Thomas Cooper library. After hours of observation the student noticed that barely any of the students in that particular part of the library were actually studying (which one would assume is the primary function of the library) and instead chose to surf the internet and social media sites as well as watch movies on their laptops. This raises the question of why? Why did they choose to do this at the library rather than in their homes, which seems much more socially appropriate? After further observation it was noted that this sort of behavior only occurred in that specific part of the library (the top floor close to the exit stairwell to be exact) and other patterns had emerged in other parts of the library. This could mean either that one spot is generally recognized not as a place of study but as a place of relaxation, or it could be thought that perhaps one student decided to stay on that floor and watch videos on the internet and when another student noticed that this was socially acceptable behavior (at least at this part of the library) decided to do the same, and so on. Had every one of the students in there had left at the same moment and relocated in a more deserted area, that area would instantly become a site of congregation whether or not that was its original purpose.
The problem with these sites is that their ambiguous nature of being both public and private creates an unclear area for a populace to interact or be a part of. They are public because of their accessibility by a general population, yet private in how they operate ideally with small, intimate groups of people.From the observations of our individual Mass Observation Projects, we each concluded that surveillance was respectively a part of each setting; a common’s area, a library, and a general building of congregation in the Russell House on the USC campus. Yet, we each concluded there was also a general inattention to watchful eyes by the general public we were observing. Despite the prevalence of some sort of security, people willfully were unaware or ignored it (Slobogin 81). But why? We believe that the private nature of the group setting creates an illusion of privacy, which is reinforced by the smoothness of camera placement.
Although most people in these public places are being recorded more than they are not (Slobogin 83), there are two possible reasons why they may not be attentive to this. The first is truly being unaware. Despite the prevalence in everyday American life of devices which track, most students consider their academic lives a place where they are “safe” from being watched. This causes us to further ignore the fact that surveillance is omnipresent, and pushes it to a part of our lives for which we have a general inattention for(Wise 167). This inattention is exploited by the strategic and economic placement of cameras. Through our research, we noted that there were far fewer cameras than we expected, though this was justified by research into the actual cameras price tag. Although there were fewer cameras, they were placed in high traffic areas and out of the sight of unassuming passing people. This general net of safety that is actually made of strategic choices that fools one into believing they are anonymous.
The other explanation is that we are trained to obey. Although we must know we are being watched, we willfully choose to ignore it. The one example that comes to mind is the many who looked all around and never noticed the camera they were under (Bolton 4). This can be explained by the tendency of one being watched and automatically assume that who ever watching is trustworthy and has the best intentions in mind, therefore one sides with the watcher and the watcher(s)’s opinion(Slobogin 94).
When we take a look at these places of congregation we want to see how people change their disciplinary actions. We want to focus on what the causes and effects of two different situations. First you have when people are better behaved because they are in a public situation and they know there are eyes everywhere watching them. Has the system trained them that a watching eye means they should be on better behavior. Is this a fear tactic? Are people more afraid when there are strangers around that they feel like they have to alter their behavior? These are the questions that we are interested in, We believe that in many situations people do change to try to be on their best behavior in public gatherings. Some change because they don't want to embarrass themselves others do it because they don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb.
On the other end of the spectrum we want to talk about how these public spaces can cause the the behavior control system to break down. What we mean by this is how being in a public space with many people can cause people to act in their worst behavior. This stems from the mob mentality. When there is a group large enough the individual people in the group start to feel more powerful. They feel like they can do whatever they want because the system can not possibly stop of them. This is where difficulty comes in. In many places we think that just having a camera is enough to stop bad behavior or crime. We want to investigate the differences
between these two and what is the catalyst for each of them. There are many variables that cause the different reactions from people in public spaces. Do the people around you change the situation or is it the location in particular that changes how people act?
Using our individual’s clusters we want to explain how the differences in public and private congregation areas affect people’s behavior, how people are change their behaviors knowing that they are being watching and how the people around and spefic locations dictate these actions. In these areas we want to focus on how someone feels and how they act depending on the different variables. We hope to explore more into how these human patterns are being shaped in areas of gathering. Also how these acts of surveillance can greatly affect the state of a person.
Bolton, Dana T. "Mass Observation Project." (2014): 1-6. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.
Brower, Ryan. “Mass Observation.” (2014): 1-3. Web. 20 No. 2014 Grimes-Rillorta, Michael. “Mass Observation.” (2014) 1-4. Web. 23 No. 2014
Slobogin, Christopher, Public Privacy: Camera Surveillance of Public Places And The Right to
Anonymity. Mississippi Law Journal, Vol. 72, 2002
Wise, Macgregor. "Attention and Assemblage in the Clickable World." N.p.: n.p., n.d. 159-72.