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Are We Outgrowing the Need for Privacy? July 11, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.

According to a new survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the Millennials, that generation that grew up at the turn of the century (my god, I remember when that meant around 1900), are far more open to sharing personal information online than previous generations.

Further, the results of the survey suggest that such sharing will be a lifelong habit.  The report notes that people have generally become more private as they age, with more to protect.  However, the Millennial Generation may not have the same requirements for privacy as preceding generations.

I think there’s an element of balancing risk and reward here.  I probably don’t need a lot of privacy, and I have, in a minor way, cultivated an online persona (case in point, this blog).  I don’t mind personal and potentially embarrassing things about me being public; I’ve been embarrassed before, and I’ve gotten over it.

However, we’ve all heard the stories (or experienced first-hand) how online information can be used in ways that we don’t expect.  Our identities can be stolen, or information can be used against us in a variety of ways, such as in divorce proceedings or our jobs.  One wonders if we are starting to accept these potential dangers as simply a cost of being a citizen of the Digital Era.

I wouldn’t call myself a digital native (as the Pew Internet and American Life Project refers to the Millennials), and I’m not an early adopter of most consumer technologies.  I share online, but very selectively.  I have no doubt that a more open approach to online sharing would have afforded me more friendships, job opportunities, and humorous moments.  Even with the potential dangers, on balance I’ve probably erred on the side of less rather than more exposure.  That likely says something about my personality, but more about the attitudes in general during my formative years.

Fundamentally, I’m prepared for the world to change as I grow older, and I’m prepared for the following generations to be smarter than me (hell, I’m prepared for anyone to be smarter than me).  But I’m not fully prepared to have the world search for details of my life.  I don’t think of such details as public or private, but nor would it occur to me to offer them up to strangers.

Is the ability to do just that, without regard to privacy, or public versus personal information, what defines the Millennial Generation?  Or is this a false dichotomy, and merely a more natural reaction to the greater reach of information in general?



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