In light of the anniversary of the Snowden leaks the Wilson Center held a public event on Surveillance, Security and Trust. It’s becoming clear that our regulatory frameworks are severely outdated in regards to current and evolving technologies. In addition, there is a schism between the way older and younger generations view privacy. At the Commons Lab we asked several of our 20-something employees what they thought about privacy and surveillance in the Digital Age.
Are there differences in this country between the way young people see privacy and the way older people do?
Female, Age 20: Absolutely. There are perception differences across a wide spectrum of issues between young people and older people. Personally, I think that the culture and environment that the younger people have grown up in and adopted creates a lack of privacy. For example, with social media, text messaging, and other recent technologies, our lives are never really private. Additionally, with available technology, we continue to hear about how our government can listen and see everything. Although we might not support it, we have grown accustomed to hearing such things, which conditions us to accept a lack of privacy.
Female, Age 22: There is a definitive difference in the way older Americans and younger Americans view privacy. As younger Americans trade their personal information for digital convenience, older Americans are more reluctant as a demographic to participate on the Internet with the same openness. Younger Americans have become accustomed to clicking ‘Accept’ to fine print attachments, often unaware of the degree of privacy they are relinquishing to quickly participate. A good metaphor of this is the oft discussed “American Dream.” It is certainly arguable that in generations past, it was the private ownerships of a private home surrounded by a white picket fence that symbolized success, marking a private space to conduct private affairs. Now, younger Americans gladly share pictures and stories publicly on the Internet depicting what happens in these spaces, offering up the details of their lives for public validation. I think younger Americans are simply willing to share more with a wider circle, but want to feel that the circle they share it with it still under their jurisdiction. Older Americans, on the other hand, may not be concerned with sharing at all with such an audience.
Female, Age 28: Mainly we don’t care. While I’m not considered a digital native I still came of age during the digital revolution and the idea that someone knows my whereabouts at every moment just doesn’t bother me personally — that is, until I think through the greater implications to society and government oversight. Many of my friends and I follow the rule, “Don’t post it if you don’t want your grandma to read it.”
Male, Age 20: Yes, I would guess that there probably is. Particularly, I expect that the younger generations are more accepting of how commonly their electronic information is shared around the world. We have grown up with it as such a ubiquitous part of our lives that you can’t help but recognize it and move on. For my own part, I simply assume that anything I do on the internet can, and will, become public information. Once you take that as fact, then it becomes just like any other public forum and you act accordingly. I feel that this is an attitude more commonly held by our age group and one that separates us from the opinions of our parents.