Robert Lundberg new

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Dr Robert Lundberg completed his PhD in December 2023 at Monash University.

Thesis Title
Living Together in the Digital City: Everyday Digital Technology and Public Space Design

Research Description
Automation is a pervasive part of everyday life in cities. Despite this, the technologies that automate everyday life in urban public space are easily overlooked. For instance, automated traffic lights that structure the movements of people and vehicles, but which are often taken for granted. Seeking to remedy this oversight, there has been a groundswell of scholarship that explores how various automated technologies are experienced as part of everyday life in public space.

In my doctoral research I extend this scholarship by arguing that it is as an experiential phenomenon that automation becomes spatially productive – because it shapes where and how public space enters into people’s lives. To illustrate this I draw on two research projects that explore everyday life in public space in Melbourne (Naarm) during the first two years of the COVID-19 Pandemic. First, I explore how people experience one aspect of automation – sensors and real-time data – in one public space, a public park in the inner-city suburb of Carlton, Melbourne. Next, I explore how automation became part of the practices that people engaged to make the different spaces that were available to them throughout lockdown, into public space.

Progressed using innovative digital and visual ethnographic research methods that I developed in response to the pandemic, both of these projects highlight how automation contributes to public space by drawing attention to three different categories of experiences – intimacy, trust, and care – that emerged from people’s engagements with automation in contexts that they experienced as public space. By following these experiences through participant accounts I show that the breadth of different experiences that people relate to public space contexts emerges from a relationship between technology and the urban environment that is characterised by mutuality and exchange, in which each has a part to play. This points towards automation as spatially productive, but as part of public space, rather than something that is external to it.

With this I offer an important counterpoint to narratives that relate the production of public space to top-down engagements with digital technologies, as in smart and platform cities. It also contributes to the critical evaluation of public space by showing how digital technology is part of the ongoing configuration of that space, through the everyday life that takes place there. This serves as an invitation to urban professionals to rethink their assumptions about the role of digital technology in public space, and how to account for this in urban planning, policy, and design.

Assoc Prof Shanti Sumartojo, Monash University
Prof Sarah Pink, Monash University
Dr Tom Morgan, Monash University