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Digital Proxemics

How Technology Shapes the Ways We Move


John A. McArthur

The study of proxemics – the human use of space – is reimagined for the digital age in this book, a compelling examination of the future of the ways we move. Whereas much writing on the subject focuses on what digital technology might do for us, this book explores what the same technology might do to us.
Combining dynamic stories, cutting-edge research, and deep reflection on the role of space in our lives, Digital Proxemics examines the ways that our uses of physical and digital spaces and our uses of technology are converging. It investigates the role of digital communication in proxemics, offering explorations of the ways digital technology shapes our personal bodily movement, our interpersonal negotiation of social space, and our navigation of public spaces and places. Through the lens of information and user-experience design, it adds forbidden spaces, ubicomp, augmented reality, digital surveillance, and virtual reality to the growing lexicon surrounding proxemics. The result is a spatial turn in the study of digital technology and a digital turn in the study of proxemics.
As our culture changes, our ability to make choices about how to move will be called into question, as will our expectations for what roles technology will play in our lives. As we navigate this intersection, Digital Proxemics is at once a valuable lens through which we can view our shifting culture, a cautionary tale through which we might envision problematic outcomes, and an optimistic projection of possibility for the future of human communication and technology interaction.
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Chapter 2. Digitizing Proxemics


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Dismayed by a series of negative online reviews citing long wait times, an anonymous restaurant manager1 in East Midtown Manhattan searched the restaurant archives for answers. After investigating receipts, reviews, and feedback from staff, the restaurateur2 and a consulting firm turned to the restaurant’s cameras. They compared two sets of surveillance footage, one from a dinner service in 2004 and one from a dinner service in 2014, in an attempt to discern the cause of bloated wait times for patrons. The observed differences in dinner service times in 2004 versus the same service in 2014 were striking. Over the decade, the average time for food preparation remained constant. Yet, over that same decade, the average time a customer sat before placing an order increased by almost 200%, from 8 to 21 minutes. And, the average time customers spent with food on the table increased by 20 minutes. These changes resulted in an almost doubling of the average total mealtime observed in this restaurant, from 1 hour and 5 minutes in 2004 to 1 hour and 55 minutes in 2014.3

Based on the content of the surveillance footage, the investigators found one noteworthy difference in the customers of ten years ago and the customers of today: the presence of mobile phones.

← 15 | 16 →When asked about the way mobile phones have changed the restaurant business, I might typically reference the ability to make reservations, search menus, and read...

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