In the 1950s, Hannah Arendt changed political theory when she stated that any action taken in the public sphere is a political one. However, Beatriz Colomina’s “Domesticity at War” shows how the line between public and private has been blurring since even before Arendt published her definition. Colomina explores the way television, surveillance, and technology has shifted our conception of public and private. Television invites the public into our homes (10), inventions like the camera have allowed us to privately construct our own narratives and histories (9), while constant surveillance further blurs the dichotomy between public and private space (11). Because Colomina wrote this article in the early 1990s, she did not yet have much to say on the internet technologies that would further complicate our public and private lives. Using Colomina’s theories and observations as a base, I would like to explore how Arendt’s equation of political action and public action has been further upset in the digital age.
Colomina points to several technologies displayed for commercial use at the 1964 World’s Fair that radically changed the relationship between the domestic and public spheres. She quotes Patricia Philips to help understand the significance of this blurring of public and private: “The public world comes into each home as it never has before through television, radio, and personal computer. So that rituals that were once shared conspicuously in a group are now still shared -- but in isolation” (9-10). Each of the technologies discussed by Colomina has a current counterpart - the personal computer has become a smartphone, the camera has become Instagram, the TV has become Hulu, Netflix, etc - though digital technology has further blurred the media specificity of each.
If, as Arendt states, the political action is any action made in public, and if, as Colomina states, the line between public and private has been blurred by television and the personal computer, then it stands to reason that any action taken online can be read as political. In a practical sense, browsing through Twitter or Facebook, you see people take political actions every day - sharing videos, quotes, and photos of their favorite (and least favorite) candidates, discussing political points, etc. However, political action goes beyond memes. During the Ferguson Protests, when major news outlets were being sequestered by the police to certain areas away from the protests, protesters used Twitter, Vimeo, Instagram, and YouTube to share realtime information and videos from the center of the action. These were actions taken in public, but the shares, retweets, etc - the growth of their movement online - happened in what Philips called “isolation.”
The internet, which blurs medium specificity, the public, and the private, provides a large and loud platform for users to not only consume but also interact with media. This interaction is the last piece of the puzzle missing from the broadcast model of television. By interacting with media online, users in the privacy of their homes take political action in the Internet public space.