The Digital Possessive: Private Spaces in Public Space

In this talk, I argue that the rhetoric of personalization so commonplace in today’s digital culture is constitutive of a distinct form of spectatorship that I call the digital possessive. This form of spectatorship, one in which users construct “private” spaces through which to access the “public” network, has emerged as a response to the allure of data accessibility and the seemingly unbounded capacity of networks. Consistent with a consumer culture that increasingly promotes possession over ownership (i.e. home mortgages, car leases, and content services, such as Napster, Netflix, and iTunes), the average user is becoming more comfortable with the idea of temporary possession and occupancy. Within that context, her sense of dwelling and privacy is enabled by her ability to order and maintain personally relevant data in a familiar form. I explore the practical methods through which users create, manage, and understand the nature of personal data within their private spaces, arguing that the emergent private sphere is both productive and reflective of the economic and social imperatives of the new web.

Eric Gordon is an assistant professor in the Department of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College in Boston. His work focuses on technology in public space, perceptions of place in synthetic worlds, and social software in teaching and learning. His book The Urban Spectator: Emerging Media and the Consumption of the American City is forthcoming from Wayne State University Press.

Eric Gordon