Rules and Regulations of Mobile Phones in a Public Space

Businessman using mobile phone, laughing on bus

When people think about the rules and regulations of media, most people’s minds would jump to illegal downloading. Yes downloading is an illegal thing to do but what about other forms of media rules. The Australian Government has many rules in the media under certain acts, which relate to advertising, classifications and complaints for example the Commercial Television Code of Practice. There are also other forms of media regulation whether it be at a work place, in public or just at home and these regulations can be illegal or legal. Most people would agree that there is a common courtesy when it comes to mobile phones in public today. Generally, most people have their keyboards on silent so people don’t hear them clicking away. Longtime users of mobile phones seem to understand this whereas new users don’t. For example, my uncle is still only figuring out phones (like my dad) and only became aware that it is “not cool”, in his words, to have your phone on ‘loud’. Does this show a social fear? Has this one act shaped how we now think about mobile phones in public and rules when it comes to using them? Trying to find current articles on mobile etiquette proved to be a little difficult as the majority were written in 2013. BUT I did come across this fantastic BuzzFeed article, although not academic, it perfectly describes societies feelings towards mobile phone etiquette. I then came across a forum about why in movies and TV shows they have their phones set on vibrate. Has this societal fear of loud phones become a real thing? It really has shaped the place in which we use media, in the public and at home. While these rules are not enforced, they have been learned and have become a natural part of everyday, for some people (excludes obnoxious people on trains). Personally, I don’t think media regulation has to be defined by what is illegal and not, it is about the constraints of media and the use of it in society.

I think the rules and regulations in the work place regarding media are important to look at as well. I have had many jobs with all different leniencies on media use. At my first few jobs, it was easy to sneak my phone out while I was working, but soon my bosses figured it out (not just me by the way) and cracked down on it. Signs hung up around the staff room about how we would get fired if they caught us on our phones. They had lots of security cameras and always watched us. At this place though, the Internet was not blocked so you could basically search any site you wanted. This sometimes changed the dynamic of the workspace, with people becoming more relaxed but still hesitant to break the rules (not enforced but just known).


The next job was MUCH more relaxed. I could be on my phone all the time (for work which entailed using Instagram) and on many fashion news websites (which I usually browse for fun outside of work). There had been no warnings or rules regarding mobile phones in the workplace as it was different to most retail jobs I had had. I felt a much different feeling from being in a place like this just coming from somewhere so strict. I felt like I was breaking rules, but I wasn’t. Currently my position is in retail so mobile phones on the floor are a big no no! All Internet sites are blocked apart from the Intranet Using a mobile phone at work is not illegal but people are so afraid of losing their jobs that it has become a social anxiety. I asked my dad about his thoughts of mobile phones in the workplace. He was definitely not happy about it. He constantly complains about the younger people at his work are always on their phones and tablets. So maybe it’s just a generational thing.

Generally I search the BCM240 hashtag for some inspiration, so here is my read of the week for this topic by Amelia Murphy

There Is No Privacy with Piracy

Photography In a Public Space

Hugh Holland's iconic skate photos from 1975
One of Hugh Holland’s iconic skate photos from 1975

“The mundane is elevated to a photographic object; the everyday is now the site of potential news and visual archiving”

Daisuke Okabe, 2003

This quote perfectly captures the lives we live today. The ease of camera phones turns capturing a memory or moment into capturing the mundane. Pre-camera phones, it was film. Film was on the expensive side of things so every image counted whereas nowadays, digital photos make it easy to take as many photos as you want with no cost, no matter how terrible or important the photo or memory is. With this new found ease comes responsibilities. Whole new rules and guidelines of ethics were introduced no matter if the photo is public or private.

The ethics of photography can divide some people but for me, I find there is a difference between public space photography as an art and just taking a photo of something completely stupid. If someone were to be taking a photo of Circular Quay and I just so happened to be in their photo I wouldn’t ask them to delete it. Some public photos just have an audience too large for people to check the image. But, for example, taking a photo of someone on the train sleeping I think is an invasion of privacy particularly if it is to be posted on Facebook. If someone’s intentions are harmful or mean, then it shouldn’t be taken but it is also to be remembered that it is not illegal.

I think the best way to use ethnography in studying photograph ethics is to not be aware of who or what you’re taking photos of. The purpose is not to stand there and take photos of people intentionally to get a reaction or to be searching for people taking photos of you, but to do unknowingly. By doing this, personally, you feel as though you have an understanding of what your own beliefs and restraints are. Do you turn away if you notice someone’s taking a photo? Do you intentionally ask people if you mind taking a photo? To me, this is true ethnography.

I have seemed to have had my own lesson in ethics in photography without realizing it or needing conduct and ethnographic study to write this post. In 2011 I created an album on Facebook called “Outstanding Mullets” (yes, I was in year 10 OK). I endeavored to find the best mullets in Sydney and made an album for all of my finds. The hardest part for me was being sneaky enough to get a photo of the person without them or their parents noticing. Looking back at this now I realise how ethically wrong this is. I did not ask consent to take the photos nor to add them to a public album online and the intention was for a bit of a laugh. Now that’s the negative side of public photography. With the introduction of social media, it is now even more difficult to remove photos permanently, particularly of celebrities.

Now back to the art side of things. If there were strict legal rules about photos in public space, some of the most iconic and historic photos may not have ever been taken or released. Classic images from cinemas of couples, war photos, skate pictures from the 70s or fashion street style photos may never exist, which unknowingly shape our cultures. One of those in particular that I feel strongly about is street style photos. In the 70s, noted street style photographer Bill Cunningham, famously took photos of people on the streets of Manhattan. After doing this for decades, it wasn’t until 2005 when Scott Shuman started a blog to feature street style. Street style has undeniably become extremely important in magazines and influencing trends. Thousands of images are posted every fashion week season where I’m sure models and bloggers don’t mind getting their photo taken, posted online or in a magazine. One of my friend’s street style photos actually made it into British Vogue and she wasn’t complaining it. I did however watch a documentary on Bill Cunningham and did notice a few things about the subjects of the photos. Some of the people were reluctant to be photographed so they either turned away or asked him not to take a photo (probably unknowing of who and how influential he is). Bill was still persistent in getting the shot but I have now wondered whether he publishes those, which people ask not to be taken.


I think when it comes to photography in public or even private places, it can be tricky to define what should and shouldn’t be used. I guess as the photographer, you have to have common sense when it comes to identity and purpose in ethics and as a participant you have to voice how you feel about the image being taken.

This weeks post of the week is by Kate Scott. The personal research she took on really makes this post relatable as a student. Give it a read. Social Taboo Or Art? The Ethics Behind Street Photography