I recorded a fantastic episode of The Network Collective last night with some great friends from the industry. The topic was privacy. Originally I thought we were just going to discuss how NAT both was and wasn’t a form of privacy and how EUI-64 addressing wasn’t the end of days for people worried about being tracked. But as the show wore on, I realized a few things about privacy.
Booming In Peace
My mom is a Baby Boomer. We learn about them as a generation based on some of their characteristics, most notably their rejection of the values of their parents. One of things they hold most dear is their privacy. They grew up in a world where they could be private people. They weren’t living in a 1 or 2 room house with multiple siblings. They had the right of privacy. They could have a room all to themselves if they so chose.
Baby Boomers, like my mom, are intensely private adults. They marvel at the idea that targeted advertisements can work for them. When Amazon shows them an ad for something they just searched for they feel like it’s a form of dark magic. They also aren’t trusting of “new” things. I can still remember how shocked my mother was that I would actively get into someone else’s car instead of a taxi. When I explained that Uber and Lyft do a similar job of vetting their drivers it still took some convincing to make her realize that it was safe.
Likewise, the Boomer generation’s personal privacy doesn’t mesh well with today’s technology. While there are always exceptions to every rule, the number of people in their mid-50s and older that use Twitter and Snapchat are far, far less than the number that is the target demographic for each service. I used to wonder if it was because older people didn’t understand the technology. But over time I started to realize that it was more based on the fact that older people just don’t like sharing that kind of information about themselves. They’re not open books. Instead, Baby Boomers take a lot of studying to understand.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is my son’s generation, Generation Z. GenZ is the opposite of the Boomer generation when it comes to privacy. They have grown up in a world that has never known anything but the ever-present connectivity of the Internet. They don’t understand that people can live a life without being watched by cameras and having everything they do uploaded to YouTube. Their idea of celebrity isn’t just TV and movie stars but also extends to video game streamers on Twitch or Instagram models.
Likewise, this generation is more open about their privacy. They understand that the world is built on data collection. They sign away their information. But they tend to be crafty about it. Rather than acting like previous generations that would fill out every detail of a form this generation only fills out the necessary pieces. And they have been known to put in totally incorrect information for no other reason than to throw people off.
GenZ realizes that the privacy genie is out of the bottle. They have to deal with the world they were born into, just like the Baby Boomers and the other generations that came before them. But the way that they choose to deal with it is not through legislation but instead through self-regulation. They choose what information they expose so as not to create a trail or a profile that big data consuming companies can use to fingerprint them. And in most cases, they don’t even realize they’re doing it! My son is twelve and he instinctively knows that you don’t share everything about yourself everywhere. He knows how to navigate his virtual neighborhood just a sure as I knew how to ride my bike around my physical one back when I was his age.
Where does that leave me and my generation? Well, we’re a weird mashup on Generation X and Generation Y/Millenials. We aren’t as private as our parents and we aren’t as open as our children. We’re cynical. We’re rebelling against what we see as our parent’s generation and their complete privacy. Likewise, just like our parents, we are almost aghast at the idea that our children could be so open. We’re coming to live in a world where Big Data is learning everything about us. And our children are growing up in that world. Their children, the generation after GenZ, will only know a world where everyone knows everything already. Will it be like Minority Report, where advertising works with retinal patterns? Or will it be a generation where we know everything but really know nothing because no one tells the whole truth about who they are?
There may be a very different explanation. As a (late) boomer myself, I think the privacy issue is more related to age and experience than to generation. When I a child or in my 20s, I was just as open as today’s children or 20-somethings. And today’s children and 20-year-olds will be just as privacy conscious when they reach their 50s.
The benefits of broad sharing are immediately obvious to young people who haven’t yet learned to distrust. It takes time and life experience to realize the potential for abuse.
I would also caution against making blanket statements in the first place. As a 20-something, I was worried about privacy implications of caller ID. My 50-year-old self found that the benefits outweigh the risks here.
Knowledge is one thing. Applying your knowledge is the difficult thing!