A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
There’s a funny little thing happening right now that is going to change our society forever. However, unlike most changes history has encountered, this one is not the deliberate result of layers and layers of knowledge. This new phenomenon is merely an unintended by-product of what was once called the Information Superhighway.
If you are of an age, you remember the family photo albums. These were where the hard copies of your family’s memories were warehoused. They had pictures of aunts and cousins you’d never heard of, a bunch of black and white faces with no names, Christmas trees, birthdays and even the vacation from hell. They were a permanent record of you standing there like a bow-tied midget at some wedding, or flashing your baby bum. All of the good shots and geek shots of the life that was yours. The photo albums were the repository of you and your family’s consciousness, collected and bound and hidden, as if they were precious, in a closet somewhere. And precious they were. There is more than one story of parents braving natural disasters to save the photographs or divorcing couples arguing over baby pictures. As sentiments go, pretty much everybody prizes photographs above all else. They were yours. They belonged to you. In essence, you owned your own memories and could distribute them (share, if you will) as you saw fit. But that was then, and this is now.
Since the time of the photo album, our society has gone through some radical changes: the Internet, digital cameras, email, texting, smartphones, Facebook and Twitter. As the children of the Internet were exploring these new Apps and devices they were recreating themselves as public personae – picking and choosing the best and the brightest for their public faces. Straddled across generational lines (their earliest pictures might still be in the photo albums) they could maintain a semblance of privacy in a tsunami of social networking. Bad hair days were deleted, not uploaded; shoes were shined and despite the ubiquitous “duck face,” everyone put their best foot forward. However, even as they were shaping their newfound publicity they were also growing up and starting to have children of their own.
The children of the children of the Internet are being documented as no other generation. Even before they were born, they swarmed through cyberspace as baby bumps. (God, I hate that term!) Now, as they teeth, talk and waddle around the coffee table, smartphones are snapping every move they make, and with a few finger stokes, uploading their antics across the planet.
This is the Facebook Generation. They are the first generation to be born in the Internet fishbowl and raised in the public domain. Nothing is sacred. They can neither run nor hide. Every developmental step and stutter is being recorded, and the results are available to anyone with a Web connection. As of right now, their individual collective memories, so guarded and cherished by past generations, are no longer their own. For the first time in history, an entire generation will not have the option of deciding for themselves how they want the world to see them. They’re already on permanent display. This will have a profound effect on their future. To them, privacy will no longer be a question open to debate; it simply will not exist.
Without thinking, we have sacrificed our children’s privacy on the altar of Social Networking. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The situation is what it is, and there’s no turning back the clock. However, by denying our kids the right to stumble and make mistakes in private, we have condemned them to live their lives in the public eye. At this point, there’s no way of knowing how well they’re going to handle this relentless public scrutiny. However, I, for one, am glad my teenage friends couldn’t download the details of my potty training and Elizabeth McTavish never saw me looking like a toad in that stupid sailor suit.