Helicoptering Away Your Privacy

Big Brother 2004 (UK)

I was trying to explain Foursquare to someone this morning. The issue on which we got focused was not so much is it a game or is it a social utility (It’s a floor wax! It’s a dessert topping! – if you don’t get that, search Shimmer Floor Wax).  The issue we kept discussing was privacy. In fact the discussion expanded into a broader one inclusive of Facebook, Twitter, and most other social media and I had a thought I’d like to share.
People of my generation – Baby Boomers – were brought up reading 1984 in school. The notion of Big Brother watching you was creepy. We don’t do things like share our compensation levels with friends or announce to the world when we break up, feel sick or are hung over. We usually didn’t pass around embarrassing photos of ourselves and if we did we made damn sure the boss/teachers/parents wouldn’t see them. Social networking is an odd duck to many of my generation and the biggest oddity is the negation of personal privacy it brings with it. I suppose that if most folks really understood what data is available about them, they’d find it even odder. Or alarming.  In any event, we have expectations that unless we explicitly grant someone the ability to know something about us – where we’ve been, what we’re doing, what web sites we’ve visited – that information would remain ours.

Fast forward a generation.  My kids and their friends share everything.   Their generation doesn’t seem to care about privacy as much because it seems as if they don’t really have an expectation that they’d have it.  And my thought was about why.

In two words, their parents.  My generation was left unsupervised quite a bit.  We played after school without parents or coaches.  We rode our bikes around the neighborhood.  We’d find another kid from the neighborhood in the street or on the playground and have spontaneous play dates.  There were no adults hovering.  We had privacy – not always, but what was known about our day was what we cared to share (or what whichever parent caught us ratted out to our own folks).

Today’s kids have no privacy.  There is always some adult hovering.  Big Brother is always watching them and has been since they were born.  Their privacy has been helicoptered away. This, I think, is why they are far less focused on privacy issues than is my generation.


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