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The Young & The Internet – A Lesson For Us Old Folks

New York Magazine has a revealing look into the new world of being public online. Long piece, but definitely worth the read. It’s called ‘Say Everything’.

    As younger people reveal their private lives on the Internet, the older generation looks on with alarm and misapprehension not seen since the early days of rock and roll. The future belongs to the uninhibited.

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Why is this story good? Because it gives us a look inside the minds of the next generation and how they deal with today’s media society. I’m 35-years-old, and I feel old when I read this story, even though I’m an online veteran. A few highlights…

    But maybe it’s a cheap shot to talk about reality television and Paris Hilton. Because what we’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 that’s only just begun to show results. More young people are putting more personal information out in public than any older person ever would—and yet they seem mysteriously healthy and normal, save for an entirely different definition of privacy. From their perspective, it’s the extreme caution of the earlier generation that’s the narcissistic thing. Or, as Kitty put it to me, “Why not? What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Twenty years down the road, someone’s gonna find your picture? Just make sure it’s a great picture.”

    And after all, there is another way to look at this shift. Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

    So it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones. For someone like me, who grew up sealing my diary with a literal lock, this may be tough to accept. But under current circumstances, a defiant belief in holding things close to your chest might not be high-minded. It might be an artifact—quaint and naïve, like a determined faith that virginity keeps ladies pure. Or at least that might be true for someone who has grown up “putting themselves out there” and found that the benefits of being transparent make the risks worth it.

More coverage at Techmeme.