Friday, December 3, 2010

The New Social Order: Not Your Grandmother's Idea of Privacy

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the shifting notions of privacy. Communicating through social media requires a radically different view of privacy, one that your grandmother would certainly not approve of. Over the last few months, I’ve met so many people between their forties and sixties who all seem to ask the same question: Why would someone want to put themselves out there and make so much information public?

Though I enjoy social networking, I must confess that it took some initial self-grappling to get completely comfortable with the idea of sharing 140-character updates so publicly on Twitter. I’m still not on Foursquare because I don’t like to constantly share my current location. (this is not just due to privacy issues but also because I don’t see how constantly sharing my current whereabouts has any relevance for my friends or followers.)

Of course, I am careful about what I post and recognize that all that I say over Twitter is going to be archived forever not only on the Web but also in the library of the Congress. But over time, Twitter has graduated to the status of a good friend – you know, the types whom you can talk to easily without being too guarded and worried about revealing too much about yourself. In doing so, I realize I’ve made a huge leap where my private and public life are now somewhat intertwined despite the fact that I regulate what I want to share with whom, how much and over what channel.

But let’s go back to the question of why do we like to put ourselves out there and make our lives so public. I read this piece in New York magazine a while ago, which I think sums it up beautifully: “The public life is fun. It’s creative. It’s where their friends are. It’s theater, but it’s also community: In this linked, logged world, you have a place to think out loud and be listened to, to meet strangers and go deeper with friends.”

I’ll add to that: Besides entertainment, I think it’s also all the attention that makes a celebrity out of everyone. It’s the reason reality shows are so popular. We love to be a silent part of someone else’s life and have unbridled access to it. We also thrive on the constant affirmation of our thoughts – the metaphorical applause in terms of ‘likes,’ the reassurance that things will be okay, and proof of our wide-spread social influence in general.

For those who worry about putting themselves ‘out there,’ it may already be too late. I think we are all already out there – with the incredible digital footprints we leave behind. Even if you don't have a presence on social media channels, a lot of information about you is stored by websites you visit and what you search for or even shop for online. In the digital age, complete privacy is a utopian concept.

It’s amazing that there’s a generation out there that’s practically growing up socially. I was shocked when I found out that my 10-year-old nephew in India and all his classmates were on Facebook. But that was before I read about a recent survey by Internet security company AVG, which found that a majority of children in 10 developed countries have an online presence before the age of two, with nearly a quarter of them starting before they are even born. In the U.S., 92% of toddlers under the age of two have an online presence, the same survey found. It will be interesting to see how their notion of privacy will be so different from my own.

The question is: When I become a grandmother, will I approve?

How do you feel about this shifting notion of privacy? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.


  1. I know few people of my age who don't approve of this new age of social networking where privacy has whole new meaning. Even my husband seems to be social networking shy! Even though he has no strong opposition, he seems uncomfortable sharing about his daily life and routine with others, whereas for me its been always a way of life. I did take a little time to understand how things work on twitter but I slowly got it. I recently changed my profile picture on twitter, figuring I might get in trouble if someone figured me out at work! I have Friends only setting on my FB. If I want I can go private with twitter. So, even though the new age has redefined the levels of privacy, we still have a choice. People are willing to let go and let people know more about themselves. Sometimes, a part of this evolution I think this changing society where we live in, we are not close to family, real friends and that gives room for finding new friends and means of socializing. The term globalization is not just restricted to industry and countries but applies with people too. Ofcourse, thats just one way to look at it. There are many reasons why people are willing to share more than what grandma would have approved!

    on a completely unrelated topic: The other day I was surfing the net when I landed on a blog that had sub title "Please click on my ads, thats my way of living" , I wonder if you call this new age of begging!!!

  2. @Kulsum, thanks for sharing your thoughts. We do have some control over privacy though it's impossible to keep our lives completely private when we participate online because so much information about us is being stored even without our knowledge or permission. It's the flip side of technology - it's made it possible to communicate and socialize in ways that was never possible before and as a result, it's completely transformed our concept of privacy and I think it's going to be so different another ten years down the line.

  3. Keep in mind your iPhone or android device is also constantly tracking your location, recording it and it cannot be erased. It is also automatically transferred to a new device should you upgrade to a new phone or tablet device.

    This is being done without your knowledge, permission or ability to access. Why is this being done? Who is collecting and using this information and why? Big brother can watch you and knows where you are.

    In addition, agencies such as the FBI can remotely turn on your cell phone and record any conversation withing range of its microphone. America, land of the tracked, surveilled, and enslaved.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, James. True, while new technology such as smart phones give us constant connectivity, in the process, we are losing our privacy. The latest iPhone controversy proves that. The question is how much of our privacy we are willing to forego in return for all the benefits. At the very least, it's important to be educated about the consequences and make an informed decision.


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