In the Public Eye

At the University of Wollongong there is a public screen in the UniCentre which generally shows music videos and the occasional film. This week I observed how the Uni students behaved around it.

The big screen at UOW UniCentre. Are the students watching it or watching their own private screens?

What I found was that most of the time, the students weren’t watching the screen, but using their own personal screens such as laptops and phones. Only if they heard something interesting coming from the speaker would they look up and watch the screen for a while. It seemed that the students were more interested in using their personal screens for their first source of entertainment, and the big screen was just some background noise that would occasionally distract them from their activities.

Students at the UOW UniCentre engrossed in their own online worlds.

I was amazed that I hadn’t noticed this before, but so many people were on their personal screens. My initial thought was, “Wow, people are so involved their own personal experience to even take notice of a public screen that is meant to be shared.” However I came to the realisation that although the big screen was in a public place, it wasn’t quite so public. What I mean by this is although everybody in the building could see it, there was no social interaction with it. This big screen serves more as just a big T.V. that nobody has a remote for. Whereas the student’s laptops and phones were in some way more public, as it was allowing them to interact with others on the Internet.

Crowds watch the Royal Wedding together in 2011 on the Manchester Big Screen. Image Source:

This article talks about the Manchester ‘Big Screen’ that was put up in Exchange Square. The BBC was involved and because of this, they were worried that people would assume it to be a big tele. They state that,

“What we’re really talking about is a digital canvas… There are loads of ways in which you can interact with the screen so it’s not just one way of traffic.”

This screen had a much different response to the one at UOW. It served

“as the site for the collective public enactment of public rituals including collaborative celebration and mourning.”

Here we see a screen that is being used publicly. The difference? It allowed the public to interact with it. The article says that screens shouldn’t be seen as surfaces that get the attention of an audience, but as a way of creating new forms of public relationships. This is where I think the big screen at the university has failed in bringing people together in a public sphere, and because of this the students are turning to their private screens in order to enter a public sphere.

Even the charm of One Direction couldn’t draw these students away from their private screens. How sad…


Cubitt, S, McQuire, S & Papastergiadis, N 2008, ‘Public Screens and the Transformation of Public Space’, Journal of Entertainment Media, vol. 3, no. 6, viewed 23 September 2013, <;


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