When private moments go public, headlines can soon follow

April 8, 2013  

Glenn Sparks

Glenn Sparks
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The ease of taking photos and recording videos on smartphones is blurring the lines between public and private, says a Purdue University mass communication professor.

"Today, virtually any behavior that another person can directly observe is behavior that could end up being viewed by millions through a picture or video captured by that other person's cell phone," says Glenn Sparks, a professor of communication who studies communication technology and relationships. "While many fear the power of electronic surveillance by government agencies - and that is a threat that should also be taken seriously - it is easy to forget the power of electronic surveillance that exists in any stranger's pocket through the smartphone."

Sparks says this cultural shift is on display daily when people are unknowingly photographed by friends and then tagged on Facebook or an image is shared online. The discrete capability of photographing and recording also can have more widespread ramifications.

"As the Rutgers basketball coach probably realizes - and as Mitt Romney discovered during the presidential campaign - any behavior can go viral with the aid of a cellphone,” he says.

Sparks notes that behavior that one might think is relatively private and certainly not being recorded could turn up on YouTube or on a TV network.

"This is a sobering reality of modern life in the electronic village," he says.

Earlier this month, the cellphone celebrated its 40th year, and the Pew Research Center reports that 87 percent of American adults use cellphones.

Sparks is co-author of "Refrigerator Rights: Our Crucial Need for Close Connection," which was published in 2002. Sparks and the book's co-author, Will Miller, say that as people move farther away and are more engaged in media, there is a greater void in face-to-face relationships.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Glenn Sparks, gsparks@purdue.edu

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