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Archive for December 2009

Has privacy become passe?

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare, how we use them, and their conflict with privacy.

Recent changes to privacy controls in Facebook have resulted in not a small amount concern, and Google CEO’s Eric Shmidt’s comment that “if it’s something they don’t want people to know about, maybe they shouldn’t be doing it” is a more than alarming perspective about how privacy is viewed these days.

Twitter has always been a public broadcast platform, so there’s no contention there. Users clearly choose to broadcast what they’re doing or thinking to anyone who wants to listen, and everything is shared with consent.

But that’s also the problem. In using such services, we voluntarily (in most cases) choose to share with our network of friends and followers morsels of information about who we are, what we do and how we think, much of this information being publicly searchable.

I understand that this is all voluntary, and woe be the Internet user who fails to recognise this while happily sharing the details of his or her life. What I’m interested to ask is – when did this become the normal thing to do, viz. how we treat the details of our lives? And as importantly, when will it become passe to tell all our friends what we’re doing with such frequency?

Of the first question, it troubles me that whenever I think I’m doing something interesting, I wonder to myself if I should post it on Twitter and let everyone know. Before, one would just be happy with the thought, perhaps pursue it further, and maybe share it with a few close friends to see where the conversation leads. Now, one thinks first of telling everyone about it. When did that reflex even begin to take root? Perhaps services like Twitter have multiplied the opportunities for interesting conversations to emerge from individual thoughts. But it’s hard to deny that they’ve also multiplied the amount of noise and decreased the visibiliy and efficacy of such conversations.

Of the second question, I’ve begun to think that it may be inappropriate, and sometimes even crass, to be telling everyone what I’m doing every so often. What was once considered self-aggrandising or bragging – sharing news about your latest holiday overseas, your latest expensive dining experience, or your latest party photos – has somehow become accepted and acceptable behaviour. And it’s this shift in values about what we consider appropriate to share that I’m interested in. It’s evidently happened, without doubt, but I wonder if it’s something that will persist as a value, or if it will become passe once again.

Have we come to a point where we no longer value privacy and the notion of “keeping things to yourself,” or will there come a time when such explicit (and uninvited) sharing becomes passe and we decide to be more private individuals?

If the latter becomes the case, what will become of social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare?

Written by tokyotribe

December 20, 2009 at 1:55 am

Posted in Tech