Park Benches and Staring at Screens

21 May 2013 · 1 comment

in Community Involvement, Digital & ICT Outdoors, Technologies, Urban

One of the loveliest aspects of London is its city parks

They are oases of calm and contemplation amidst the busy background hum of traffic and other ongoing noise. When I was last in London, I was taking an early morning park walk and came across this rather obvious bench in the middle of Tavistock Square.

There was no way this was part of the peace memorials and polite memory benches that quietly blend into the park scenery. It could not have been more blatant. This bench has been designed to be noticed. It is screaming for attention and comment.

Upon closer examination, it was clear this is no ordinary park bench. I did a quick online search, thanks to having my iPhone handy, and discovered it is one of the Microsoft wi-fi enabled benches for those with the super fast 4G internet connection. It is part of their “Work From Anywhere” campaign. Basically you can sit here and get free Internet access.

I loved the blurb on the bench. It was gently humorous and an interesting reminder of how many people have blended technology into their lives. Particularly with the growth in portable media, we now have a way of being with digital technology. Static computer screens inside a home or office are becoming less and less the norm. Whether this is a good, bad or indifferent thing is probably a matter for debate.<

The disappointing side of this, is of course, that you need the super-duper 4G phones. Also every orange bench is exactly the same. Go to any different park and you’ll see the same orange bench with the same text. I would have loved to have seen place-specific text so that the benches were an interactive form of public artwork. That would have been so much more interesting.

There was an irony about my discovery of these benches. It happened whilst I was attending the Flourish Summit Conference. This involved a lot of staring at PowerPoint presentations over 2 days. There I was, sat indoors, listening to several speakers make negative comments about inactive children spending too much time indoors staring at one sort of screen or another. Outside, five minutes walk away, was an example of the ever-changing nature of digital technology and our relationship with it. Fresh air, social interaction and a wee walk in the park. It’s good to challenge assumptions…

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Juliet Robertson July 25, 2013 at 08:11

Quick update! I was back here in July 2013 and the orange benches have been removed! I’ve no idea why. It must have just been a temporary advert.

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