A mind-expanding article in this week’s New York Magazine titled “Say Everything” attempts to come to grips with a new generation gap, one built largely on the growing disconnect on just what privacy really means anyway. (via Totally Wired, btw.)
Because what weâ€™re discussing is something more radical if only because it is more ordinary: the fact that we are in the sticky center of a vast psychological experiment, one thatâ€™s only just begun to show results. More young people are putting more personal information out in public than any older person ever wouldâ€”and yet they seem mysteriously healthy and normal, save for an entirely different definition of privacy. From their perspective, itâ€™s the extreme caution of the earlier generation thatâ€™s the narcissistic thing. Or, as Kitty put it to me, â€œWhy not? Whatâ€™s the worst thatâ€™s going to happen? Twenty years down the road, someoneâ€™s gonna find your picture? Just make sure itâ€™s a great picture.â€
This is one of THE big disconnects that I think we are just starting to wrap our brains around. It’s absolutely what most teachers I talk to find so incredibly difficult about using these tools, the “putting myself out there for other people to see” part. According to the article here are the three big shifts:
1. They think of themselves as having an audience
2. They have archived their adolescence
3. Their skin is thicker than yours
Whoa. Here are a few other snips to whet your appetite:
When I was in high school, youâ€™d have to be a megalomaniac or the most popular kid around to think of yourself as having a fan base. But people 25 and under are just being realistic when they think of themselves that way, says media researcher Danah Boyd, who calls the phenomenon â€œinvisible audiences.â€ Since their early adolescence, theyâ€™ve learned to modulate their voice to address a set of listeners that may shrink or expand at any time: talking to one friend via instant message (who could cut-and-paste the transcript), addressing an e-mail distribution list (archived and accessible years later), arguing with someone on a posting board (anonymous, semi-anonymous, then linked to by a snarky blog). Itâ€™s a form of communication that requires a person to be constantly aware that anything you say can and will be used against you, but somehow not to mind.
Right now the big question for anyone of my generation seems to be, endlessly, â€œWhy would anyone do that?â€ This is not a meaningful question for a 16-year-old. The benefits are obvious: The public life is fun. Itâ€™s creative. Itâ€™s where their friends are. Itâ€™s theater, but itâ€™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. And, yes, there are all sorts of crappy side effects: the passive-aggressive drama (â€œyou know who you are!â€), the shaming outbursts, the chill a person can feel in cyberspace on a particularly bad day. There are lousy side effects of most social changes (see feminism, democracy, the creation of the interstate highway system). But the real question is, as with any revolution, which side are you on?
I think that question is especially relevant for educators, don’t you?