As we speak more and more about how social networks and associated media affect the lives of our children and younger generations in general, we often make the assumption that younger people care less about their privacy than older generations. What I think is interesting about this is the presumption that their different view on personal privacy is _worse_ than the standard established by ourselves. (Arrogance of the present anyone?)
Now I don’t doubt that we have to do much more to help people (young and old) to better understand the consequences of public communication – this is usually the point where someone will bring up the inevitable friendly warning about prospective employers screening candidates via their Facebook escapades, but that notwithstanding, it’s important to dig a little deeper around this issue as the reality is much more interesting.
This article from Danah Boyd and Alice Marwick, starts to show that the reality of how younger people think about and deal with their individual privacy is more about having your cake _and_ eating it.
My theory is that younger generations are much more binary about elements of their personal lives that they share versus keep private or within a very close circle of friends.
They may have a broader list of personal data “elements” they are willing to share with the world, but they maintain fierce control over a smaller subset of their personal identity that they will only share with their inner circle of their closest friends.
The truth is, younger people are very adept about managing what stays inside the private circle and what gets broadcast outside, often using complicated obfuscation techniques, encrypting private messages in public conversations using language that no parent could ever penetrate.
The other thing to remember is that there’s really nothing new about the view that younger generations have a looser definition of what they are willing to broadcast to the world. Since the beginning of time, young people have been more public about their personal likes and dislikes as a means of establishing their identity in their society. As we become more confident in our identities we lose the desire to be so promiscuous with the elements of our identity and settle into the shoes we were destined to wear.
For my own example, having reached a certain age, I no longer feel compelled to tell the world I am The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s biggest fan by wearing t-shirts and other paraphernalia emblazoned with their logo or boring people in the pub with how much I know about BMW motorbikes and beer (OK, scratch that last one), frankly, my identity is established and I am free to live in my size 12’s and worry more about other things (like life, death and taxes).
So understanding this, what do we need to do? Well as technology providers, we need to provide an open and transparent means of letting individuals (young and old) establish and maintain a firm boundary between public and private, with the understanding that the line will be different for every single individual, and will change based on the context of what they are doing at any given point in time. Failure to do that will only result in more embarrassing headlines about unintended personal data breaches and a continued lack of trust in how we use technology effectively in our personal and professional lives.
Oh, and by the way, if you really are worried about prospective employers judging you on your Facebook feed, worry not, these days you can probably turn the tables by looking them up first…