New Age Privacy and the Social Etiquette of the Internet

In class this week we watched part of an old BBC documentary on cyber privacy and the privatisation of the once very public internet space. The documentary looked back upon the beginning of the internet and how it went from being an idealised space of pure profits to a more realistic market place that sought to understand and benefit from its consumers. We watched as Google developed its ‘free’ formula that allows for it to provide a free service whilst bringing in unprecedented profits, but whilst I sat back in the dark, watching the excessively dramatic green and purple graphics flash by, I felt uncomfortable. The production was far more informative than the ridiculous cyber safety speeches we sat through in high school, but somehow I was reacting in the same way. I felt reserved and primed to criticise their every comment.

As someone who was born into the generation that grew up with the internet there is a clear disparity between us and our forefathers as to our reaction to the internet. The internet is not ‘new’ to us, we feel as though we belong there; a major portion of our social development being taken out on online platforms. When those older than me criticise the internet I find myself on the other side fighting back. I realise that it is due to this distinct difference in social upbringing that this response is cultivated. As teenagers the push for freedom that naturally happens within a household took place surrounding the internet. We are the first of our kind to have our independence be represented this way so there is an extraordinary resistance upon us due to the yet to be determined effect of our presence online.

By now I am so used to defending the medium that represents so much of my life that whenever I hear those older than me discuss it I feel a natural sense of defensiveness; a natural sense that I know better than them and that whatever they have to say is hyperbolic and antiquated. This has very much placed me subconsciously onto the mentality of internet harmlessness. I know of its negative components but as a whole I am primed to accept the bad with the good. This is where my community is, where my sense of expression and connection lies, I cannot abandon it nor see it as innately negative… So when people talk about how my data is being sold I turn the other cheek in a way. I see it, to some extent, as the price that I have to pay for being on a free internet.

This weeks reading really enlightened me to this acceptance I have developed, one point in particular sticking out. within the second chapter of ‘It’s Complicated’ Danah Boyd notes that in public social interaction private is default with effort being needed to gain publicity… the internet, on the other hand, has publicity as the default with effort being needed to make anything private. I can see how my mindset of these negativities adorning my online presence as par for the course have developed, because I have been socialised to see publicity as a default; the complete opposite of all that have come before me. Community is of fundamental importance to the development of the individuals perspective and my community is conducted within a broad and public scope. This different medium of connection has made us develop differently, we have different etiquette and conventions that are indicative of interaction on such a public network. As Danah Boyd notes, the millennial mindset online follows that “What’s at stake is not whether someone can listen in but whether one should.”. On all online platforms we see different communities, but they are not all open to us. Our etiquette is ironically far more constricting on our actions than our parents who comment and interact with blatant disregard for the social environment in which they are entering. The assumption is that information they can see belongs to them but just as we avert our gaze from other passengers on our train the internet holds conventions that move beyond ‘cans’ and ‘cants’ to ‘dos’ and ‘donts’.

The internet is undoubtably what separates my generation from its predecessors and whilst they make important points about online safety it is our generation that must figure out our own sense of privacy. Privacy is an ongoing creation and we are indisputably the generation that will form its conceptualisation online. In fact this concept is already burgeoning. Noticeably we care a lot less about strangers viewing information than our parents do. As Foucault explains, surveillance operates as a tool for control, and following this thread, our generation has defined our privacy around those we see as holding control over us. Strangers, in our eyes, do not (as of yet) hold that control over us, their eyes on our interactions do less to warp the way we act. In communal spaces like Facebook we feel the need to seperate ourselves from our parents, teachers, and superiors because that is our place of ‘private’ interaction, it feels as natural as having a house party excluding all of the above. Strangers rocking up for the night feels far less invasive than having your teacher loitering as you sit with the people rolling up a joint. IT also does far less to alter the way you act.

My unfazed attitude towards institutional surveillance is indicative of this sense of privacy as I have developed the belief that they hold less of a threat than those closest to me. I must choose meticulously what I want to be private which means that I focus on individuals rather than the masses when looking at the concept of exclusion. This ideology has its benefits and its downfalls; the fact that our data is being sold does have an effect and will continue to, but the new publicly private sphere of the internet must not be shaped to old standards of privacy. We chose to have free services. Were we willing to pay for the internet our privacy would be completely secure but the world is changing its perspective. The social landscape is expanding and we must seek new social etiquette and new concepts of privacy to control how information is shared on the internet. our online identities will not be what they were before the internet and we must recognise that before we look to determine what should and shouldn’t be public information.