Monday, May 9, 2011

All Up in My Grill: Personal (Digital) Space

All Up in My Grill: Personal (Digital) Space: "

A few years ago, I wrote a book called Manspace: A Primal Guide to Marking Your Territory, which was about the spaces men create for themselves, from the basement bar to the backyard shed to the bedroom recording studio. The photo above (and those below) is my old Manspace, built by yours truly in 2004. Now that I'm moving houses, the idea of personal space is coming up again (I'm also headed to Newcastle, England, in about three weeks to give a talk and presentation on personal space and the man cave at this year's Thinking Digital Conference so I need to hone my talking points).

There is, of course, a Wikipedia page for the idea of personal space. I also found this diagram:

This is the literal definition of personal space. We all know the close talkers. But I'm interested in why we need it. And since I'll be giving this talk at a digital conference, I'm interested in the idea of personal digital space, if there is such a thing.

First the why. I remember my first solo trip as a 22-year-old backpacker Euro railing across France, Germany, Italy, etc, and thinking to myself while walking the streets of Vienna, Austria, how crowded I felt. Everyone seemed to be standing too close. I thought then that certain people have different comfort zones with how close they stand to another person, and that the people of Vienna were certainly used to much closer quarters than I was. Years later, this idea of cultural variations in personal space became even more pronounced in places like Bangkok, Manila, and Kathmandu (and especially among in the crowded Hindi population along the Nepalese border with India). When you're used to small spaces, you rethink your idea of personal space. Exhibit A: living in New York.

When I moved away from the City to Austin in 2002 and moved into a 1000 square foot house, I was thrilled to have so much room. We went from a two-room 500 square foot apartment over a funeral home in Brooklyn to a FIVE-room house with a backyard. It was practically palatial. Of course, then the kids came along. That's when I built the backyard writing studio pictured here, which also turned out to be the impetus for the Manspace book and investigation into why people (men mostly) crave and seek out spaces of their own (more on that in a later post).

Now I'm wondering about personal digital space. I'm struck by how many different personal Internet properties an individual can have: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr,, Instagram, Gowala, a good old blog, and more. Like physical spaces, these digital spots can be personalized and customized. They reflect and embody identity. They give the individual control. And they provide a place for personal expression, either in the chrome itself, or as a repository for doing creative work. The biggest difference is the extra step of "publishing" in the digital realm. One can close off one's Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to the outside world (or parse who can see), but doing that is denying one of the essential characteristics of the Internet—that of sharing and broadcasting to an audience. The Web is not private.

That said, people can crowd online, too. The digital equivalent of the close talker is the person who spams your Twitter or Facebook account with dozens of posts a day. Or the person who "chats" surprisingly when you login to Facebook (if you haven't turned that off, it's easy). Posting on someone's Facebook Wall or tagging someone in an unflattering photo could also be considered invations of personal digital space—or at least too close for comfort.

I'll need to explore this more. Need to find a quiet room where I won't be disturbed. Oh wait...


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