Publicly Seeking Privacy

The idea of public/private is not that simple

Every so often, big brands have really good ideas; ideas that extend to capture the things that make us human. BMW Guggenheim Lab’s Public/Private online game is that good of an idea, but not without existential conflict. The game is simple enough. Users select a common place they come in contact with (like where they work), slide it along five columns and drop it to say how often they seek privacy in that place–“Never,” “Rarely,” “No Opinion,”“Sometimes,”,“A lot”. This should be easy. But you’re left to consider the times you’re actively seeking privacy, over places you would just prefer to have privacy in. Such as, am I searching for   privacy when I go to Central Park? Or am I going there to be part of the crowd,  but also want to be alone?  In a hotel lobby, for instance, guests like the idea that they “could be alone, but not lonely.” Clearly, the idea of public/private, particularly if you live in a place like New York City, is not that simple.

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I, myself, seek out privacy in public spaces. What better place to be totally alone than in a corner of the great reading room at the New York Public Library, with 400 other readers? Going to work to hole up in my cubicle is a satisfaction that can only be understood by people in open plan offices. Maybe this is a New Yorker thing. But how else do you describe our attraction to cultural centers, places that bring people together, alone? For me, the opposite is true of places others  associate with privacy. What could be less private than going home to a room-mate or a partner? Are you alone then? Or do you seek more privacy when your living quarters are small (as opposed to a library or a park)?

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As the final coup, I was told by the game that 220 other people in New York seek privacy in the exact same way I do, and that we felt satisfied with the level of privacy in our city. What better feeling is there than that? We may be existentially conflicted but we have found a satisfying connection with each other.

Grace Ehlers is coordinates new media at Metropolis.

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