Why are we so obsessed with privacy?

So this issue came up yesterday in a discussion on MPR’s Midmorning and NewsCut Blog about our society’s current concern over privacy rights.  One of the commentators noted that human society, from the days we first walked upright until the last century, lived with little to no privacy in day-to-day life.  Sure there wasn’t the same kind of access to information like there is now, but pretty much wherever you went, people knew your name, who your family was and many other details that we often look back on with dewey-eyed nostalgia.  If you got a little too tipsy at the bar last night, you didn’t need to post pictures of it on Facebook for everyone in town to know by lunchtime.  The point is, it wasn’t until society became anonymized in the massively metropolitan and fast-paced culture that we started to think that privacy was more important than community.  Maybe the current trend of “over-sharing” on the Internet is a reaction to that loss of human connection.  Social networking is the big trend on the Internet, but it’s not exactly a new concept to humanity in general.  After all, social networking is what built civilization!  It might take a while to find the right balance due to the Internet’s indefinite preservation of information versus a community’s tendency to move on over time, but I think the next generation will come to grips with this and all our present hand-wringing will be viewed the same way Boomer’s mock their parents’ fear of “that rock and roll music.”


About Justin Kwong

An attorney in the Twin Cities and adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law where I teach a seminar on the law of virtual worlds.
This entry was posted in Privacy, Rights and Civil Liberties and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why are we so obsessed with privacy?

  1. Justin Kwong says:

    Great string of comments posted on PhysicsForums.com (http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=383633). I, myself, am interested to see how society reacts to the amount of information that is now available because it was posted by people when they were kids or teens. You used to be able to count on things done while you were a kid disappearing after you turned 18, but not anymore. Will our social norms and mores change to account for this. I hardly expect that an entire generation of people will become unemployable because of thier Facebook pages. If that happens, we’ll have much bigger problems on our hands than we thought.

  2. Justin Kwong says:

    For a more in-depth examination of the modern treatment of privacy, see Declan McCullagh’s recent article on cnet – http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-20000336-38.html?tag=rtcol;pop. His point is similar to mine, in that most of the people who really care are old enough to remember the George H.W. Bush administration–meaning they remember a time when the Internet was a mere curiosity to people with a modem and a spare phone line. The generational divide is growing ever more noticeable, especially as geo-location and other information services that spread data about personal activities grow in popularity.

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