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.