Our notions of privacy are currently changing due to technology, and it’s an interesting time if you enjoy watching social trends. For example, head on over to Nathan Bransford’s blog and read his fascinating essay “Divorce in the Internet Era.” He gives us an intimate peek into how the experience of divorce has been changed by social media.
It’s not just divorce that has been affected. Social media has also transformed our ideas of social connection, of friendship, of the purpose and maintenance of strong ties vs. weak ties (ie acquaintances and people we met that one time–when was that?–and in a flash of enthusiasm connected on social media). It has affected how we do business, how we try to connect with a more specific audience, how we can succeed at marketing, and how we can fail. It has spawned the 1000 true fans theory.
And now with the announcement of Google Goggles (known officially as Project Glass), we see another potential radical social change: a world in which our goggles tell us everyone’s names and pertinent information when we meet. A world in which remembering names is less important. A world in which I can make notes for instant reference the next time we meet: “possible kindred spirit” or “didn’t bother to ask me a single question during a thirty-minute conversation” or “really likes discussing neuroscience but becomes enraged at the suggestion that humans don’t have free will.”
My own personal ideas of privacy have changed along with the times. Every time I post on the Internet, whether that be here on the blog or on the myriad of services I am encouraged to use, I try to remember to run a little filter check. If the whole world knows I said this, would I be okay with that? If the answer is yes, I’m good to go. And every time I remember to run this check (which probably isn’t 100% of the time because no one is perfect), I develop and refine my ideas about my own privacy, about what I’m willing to share as public information vs. what I wish to remain private. In a certain way, our society is shifting back to a village mentality, that there are certain things that everyone simply knows about everyone else. And anything we want to keep to ourselves, well, we have to really work at it…and some facts, as Nathan Bransford found, are impossible to keep under wraps.
I’m hoping this shift will come with a lessening of certain stigmas and an increased tolerance for difference. I have to hope for this because the alternative is not a world in which I want to live. Perhaps we’re already seeing evidence of this shift: contrast the open statements about President George W. Bush’s past alcoholism and President Obama’s past cocaine use with President Clinton in the ‘90s who felt it was necessary to claim he “didn’t inhale.”
On Twitter, Catherynne Valente said, “The Google Goggles herald the final death of any semblance of public manners and social courtesy. Hope we enjoyed it!” But I wonder if all these changes might eventually lead to a new kind of civility. Will there be certain secrets we allow each other to keep out of sheer politeness? In a world where everyone knows each others’ names, will our sense of community change? Maybe even expand? What kind of courtesy will be possible when we can have a computer keep track of our acquaintances’ interests and news and automatically remind us of them when we’re in conversation? Will intimacy feel like it’s shrinking (the way some people feel social media is causing it to do right now) or will it feel like it’s increasing?
It’s going to be really interesting to find out! The one thing I’m betting on is that we’ll have a bumpy transition as what is possible from technology changes at a different rate from society’s attitudes about privacy and social interaction. What do you think? What about this new world do you look at with dread? What about it sounds like it could be amazing?