‘The Chinese Restaurant’

Do you ever look up from your phone when you’re out in public to see the masses of people around you with their head down?





Whether we admit it or not, we are all guilty of completely losing ourselves within our tiny screens – sometimes being so immersed that we no longer give our attention to any of our surrounds.

Ambient Screens are displays that have a purpose of conveying information to users, such as those you see around the shops, doctors, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, etc. They are often set on a particular channel or used as an advertising tool for companies. McCarthy’s article ‘Ambient Television’ discusses how the role of TV in society has changed and evolved since it was first introduced in the home.

Before we all became completely media obsessed public screens may have served more benefit or greater interest by its consumers, however today it could be said that they are almost irrelevant as we all have our own personal screens we would prefer to watch – where we can control what we are watching and how we want to watch it.

Have you ever found yourself in a waiting room for a doctor’s appointment and either forgotten your phone (does that even happen anymore?) or you drained your battery before you got there and you’re left sitting in that tiny room, surrounded by four white walls and “nothing” to stare at apart from that one screen they conveniently have placed in front of you.

You look around at everyone else who’s patiently sitting on their phones waiting for their name to be called and you grow more impatient that they are not only playing the worst channel but it’s also muted so now all you can hear is the elevator music they have playing over it.


The woman and two people seated across from her are all transfixed by their own personal screens, giving no attention to the ambient screen – Image by me.

The other week my family and I were out for dinner and about 30 minutes in I found myself taking on the role of an ethnographer as I had caught myself being distracted from my own dinner by my phone. The first thing I saw immediately when I looked up to begin my ethnography was yes, you guessed it, a screen. I notice the football was playing – the screen was muted with music playing across the whole restaurant. Right below the screen was a table of 5 people. In this particular moment I captured the woman was transfixed in her phone and the two opposite her were both with their heads down looking into the one screen they shared – 3 of the 5 people at this table were immersed in their own private screens. On a very few occasions I noticed the man look up at the screen, perhaps to check the score of the football but apart from that, no one else at the table showed the slightest interest in the TV.

As an ethnographer I found this interesting as I noticed consumers giving no attention to the TV above them but finding the time to check their phones and engage with their own private screens. As technology continues to develop we as consumers are becoming more attached to our screens, making me question the relevance of public screens. With everyone having access to their own screens, is there a need for ambient screens today?




McCarthy, A., 2001, Ambient Culture – Visual Culture and Public Space, Duke University Press, https://www.dukeupress.edu/ambient-television/?viewby=title, date accessed 4/9/19,

Technopedia.com, n.d., What is an Ambient Display? – Definition from Techopediahttps://www.techopedia.com/definition/31053/ambient-display, date accessed 4/9/19






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