Today, the proliferation of mobile digital communication devices is an area of experimentation by social actors, a field in which commercial and state organizations explore new paths. At the same time, it is the backdrop for potential transformations in the public/private dichotomy; hybrid contexts emerge from it that, in the absence of better terms, can be called semi-public and semiprivate.
It is therefore also a fertile ground for an academic approach.
We are not, however, dealing with narratives about the effects of technology or the “revolutions” that it supposedly causes, nor with fearful or catastrophic visions of the near future. But this does not mean ignoring the links between technological changes and cultural transformations, nor does it rule out the idea that the characteristics of technology have implications for its uses in the light of the concepts of public and private, as has happened in the past.
The media historian Patrice Flichy identified a point of wide-reaching change when, at the beginning of the 20th century, instant, remote communication technologies shifted from the prevalence of point-to-point transmissions to broadcast transmissions (the shift from telephone and telegraph communications between two points to radio broadcasting). As point-to-point communication is mediated, it is possible to extend privacy conditions using technology.
Broadcasting, however, thanks to its disseminating nature, introduced the content of transmissions to public communication contexts. In any case, the technological spectrum maintained different and clearly separate methods for private communication and public communication.
It was not long before the domestication of broadcast reception – boosted by a radio industry, and later a television industry, directed towards family use – instituted the conditions of what Raymond Williams called “mobile privatization“.
In other words, it produced, in society, a combination of growing mobility (including mobility of communication content) and a downturn in sociability in public, with radio and television communication flows (which are public) channeled into the private spaces of the domestic universe.