Friday, October 09, 2015

Things That Make You Go Aaargh! Skype

It's a piece of socio-cultural trivia that occasionally I am reminded of. Southern Europeans, supposedly, have less appreciation of personal space than their northern European counterparts. I don't recall the origin of this insight into behaviour, but it has stuck with me nonetheless.

A place where personal space is most obviously an issue is the beach. By some peculiar rule of attraction, it is possible to be on a largely empty beach and for someone to arrive and place him or herself within body odour proximity to you. Why this magnetism? Heaven only knows. But on the south v. north principle, the assumption would be that the one invading your personal space is Spanish. Or Italian. Or some other southern European sort. Were it someone from Sweden, the positioning would be as far away as possible.

Personally, I am unconvinced by this theory. It seems applicable or unapplicable to anyone, from whichever country. Much would depend on the individual's sense of territory, and as such this is the common to everyone, regardless of nationality.

The beach, being a public space, has no legislation for the maximum number of people who should be on it at any given time or for minimum space requirements. There are rules, such as no playing football, no taking a boat out in non-nautical sport areas, no dogs, no taking a leak (you and the dog), but the beach isn't private accommodation with mandated regulation as to living space, except, in a sense, with the positioning of sunbeds, the number of which can invade space to such a degree that non-sunbed users complain about the "privatising" of areas that are, by law, in the public domain.

In addition to this physical territorialism, for which there can be no practically applied rule, there is what one might call the invasion of mental space. Close proximity of others is one thing, what they do is another. No sooner have they arrived on the beach and they, for example, unpack the paddle tennis rackets and knock-knock their way into your mental space, into your hearing.

Ultimately, the only solution to this invasion of mental space is to simply not bother going to the beach. The alternative, if you are a holidaymaker that is, is the hotel, the poolside, the grounds. The sardining of humanity into some hotel areas beggars all belief of personal space principles. Tourism massification, be it on a beach or by a hotel pool, is such that you wonder why anyone would choose to spend good money on being subjected to this constant proximity and constant noise. It goes against all unwritten rules of personal territory.

But tourism has its own peculiarities that stem from a temporary suspension of normal behaviours. The herding instinct is, if you think about, unfathomable. Why would you put yourself through it in the pursuit of a suntan to show off to the neighbours when you get back?

There is now far greater incursion into mental space than previously. It comes thanks to technology. Any study of tourist demand that is conducted will reveal that high on the list of requirements is wifi. It is no longer an option, it is a necessity. Society is linked by the smartphone or tablet, and within the range of uses on which the holidaymaker places particular priority is the ability to communicate. This means Skype.

Some hotels have wifi zones. Enter them, and they are like any other social space. Considerable chatter. But they are different in that half of this chatter is of a rasping, tinny character. It is the cacophony of digital voice communication. Confined to an area, it is a communal experience, but it is a further example of the illogic of massification. Why do you want to listen to others' conversations? You can't avoid them, as both parties are typically conducting their conservations at high volume.

At least no one can object to the noise if they are all part of it, corralled into the wifi zone. But then there is the universally available wifi, and so the conversations conducted on balconies, by pools. My guess is that many who do so and inflict their communications on others would be the same who would object to someone shouting down a mobile (without a Skype response) or to the music coming from earphones in a train carriage.

The point is that a balcony, be it hotel or residence, is private space and not public, and so therefore one's neighbours have their private space. There is a vast difference between face-to-face conservations and those conducted digitally. The latter has an irritation factor that the former does not. It is also often more intimate in content than other conversations are, which might, when they dwell on the intimate, go to a whisper. It is an invasion of mental space brought about through an absence of consideration, through the neglect of the Spanish legal concept of "convivencia". Skype by all means, but not in earshot.

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