public space, private space

My discussion of this issue, at least the inner dialogue that takes place whenever my private bubble is breached, is foremost an internal one. I wonder how people think of their spaces when they live in an obviously public space. So this discussion about public and private space revolves around the psychology of living in public with other people.

This churning of my soul may just be a private dialogue, but it comes when people stick their bodies, voices, cars and other things that they have some control over into the space that I should have control over but don’t because of them. So this begins by thinking that my preferences are just pet peeves. It continues when I think that it can’t just be me who has these thoughts. It becomes an obsession when traffic of all sorts gets backed up around their preference, or failure to form one.

I believe that society would be a better place without these transgressions, but I also think negatively that serendipity and chance acquaintance would suffer from the lack of accidental contact brought about by a less strict adherence to Doug’s rules of order, or even a complete ignorance of them altogether. That said, and I do believe my own self criticism, there is much that people could do to make the lives of those around them less arduous. But a good bit of this only resolves itself in negotiation between competing interests. However most of the necessary groundwork has already been done.

The first principle of space, is being aware of other’s needs for space. And this involves use of the golden rule. Let’s start with an example. Our architecture sometimes attempts to mollify the effect of this particular breach of public space.

After a meeting of some kind, people often gather in small groups and talk. This seems perfectly normal and good as far as it goes. But when people stand in the doorway or the only available aisle to do this talking they breach the public space if people want to get by. Heaven forbid that the conversation is broken up, but frequently the only way to get these transgressors out of the way is to say something and interrupt the conversation. If it is rude to breach the conversation, it is far ruder to force the breach of the conversation by inhabiting the public space as if it were private.

What is private space? Even though every culture has its own constraints on private space, private space is defined as the boundary that should not be crossed by another person unless explicitly obtaining consent. The way people keep their private space is various in different cultures but it remains a sphere that cannot be breached casually without offense. Each culture has a combination of rules either formal or informal that determine the circumstances under which one person may touch another. Breaking those conventions between equals is seen as too friendly, pushy, overly familiar, domineering, abusive, assault, or even rape.

For example, in the US, pregnant women almost get used to affectionate (male or female) strangers touching their pregnant belly without eliciting great offense. It may be uncomfortable, and the touch can be resisted without offense, but it is also an introduction into a world where breaches of private space by the child will be the norm for the expectant mother. But for a stranger to touch the belly of a non-pregnant woman is an offensive breach of private space. Why the difference between the two events?

If we can learn what that difference is, I believe we can obtain a clue to the character of the difference between public and private space.

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