In this digital age, it seems nothing is secret. Social media mogul Gary Vaynerchuk certainly thinks so: “Privacy is dead, and you know what? That’s okay.”
Whether you think it’s ok, or not – what’s for sure is this lack of privacy is not just a result of Google-esque snooping, or NSA server-sifting. We willingly share our lives, and the lives of our families in almost real time.
Every moment of our life is now chronicled, we all get a front row seat at every – once private – family moment, from first tooth to first selfie. It’s a kind of voluntary invasion of privacy: the handing over of personal information to anyone with an Internet connection.
So should we just accept that this is how our life will be from now on? Are we now obligated to air all of our life laundry to prospective employers, partners, friends?
Well it seems as if many of us don’t think so, a trend which is being seen by the rise of what you could call ‘the anti-social network’.
Let’s explore why.
Privacy Versus Transparency
Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt once famously said: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”.
But sometimes, total transparency isn’t in our best interest. A teenage transgression – a petty arrest from decades ago – can end up attached to your name for life, information that could curtail a career, or just cause embarrassment. Nothing is forgotten online.
This ‘lifetime visibility’ has come to the fore in recent months after the landmark case in May 2014, when the EU’s highest court passed the “right to be forgotten” bill.
While the kinks in the bill are still being worked out (specifically how Google will decide what merits removal from search results) the ruling means that individuals in Europe can now have certain events disassociated from a search of their name. Many online see this as an end to the freedom of the internet – indeed as censorship.
But it raises an important issue: how can you truly express yourself if what you share could come back to haunt you? This issue actually looks trivial in the West compared to the problems your digital footprint could create in less open societies in the world.
Humans wear different hats: who we are in front of our employer may be very different from the person we are in the company of close friends, and again with elder family members. And because our identity is now intrinsically tied to our social media profiles, we’re faced with choosing which facet of our selves to present to the world.
Lessons From The New Generation
Social media as an extension of our true selves, combined with the desire for greater privacy and anonymity, has led to some interesting emerging trends in our most socially savvy generation.
Teens are beginning to move away from the more ‘mainstream’ Facebook because they don’t want Mum and Dad (or Grandma) reading every thought that crosses their minds. Recent statistics show that between 2011 and 2014, Facebook users aged 55-plus increased by 80.4 per cent while teen use declined -25.3 per cent.
Research carried out by Y Combinator partner Gary Tann in January 2013 makes for insightful reading on this point .
After surveying 1038 young people he found that Tumblr is more popular than Facebook for teens, more than three times more popular than Instagram, and nearly five times more popular than Snapchat!
A January 2013 report by Pew Research explains that this is because Facebook is less “authentic” (ie too many ‘olds’), has too many people sharing too much stuff, and creates “drama” that you don’t get in real life (an interesting observation for those concerned with cyber-bullying).
As one 15 year old female says in the report: “I like Tumblr because I don’t have to present a specific or false image of myself and I don’t have to interact with people I don’t necessarily want to talk to.”
A lot of the reason why teens like Tumblr is because of the way the blogging platform works, which is almost as an anti-blogging platform. It’s actually very difficult to find people on Tumblr – it’s the content that is visible rather than the author – and the search functionality is notoriously poor.
The Rise Of The ‘Anti-Social’ Networks
“Hell is other people” said French grumpy-pants Jean-Paul Sartre, and when you’ve seen your 1000th food photo or baby pic you may be feeling the same. So how can we be social, without – you know – being ‘social’. You may not be surprised to find that there’s an app for that, letting you escape from your very own social media “hell”…
Secret.ly and Whisper.sh are platforms that allow you to get things off your chest without worrying what your close friends or family will make of the statement. Others can then reply to your thoughts, also anonymously. It’s actually a liberating way to interact and express our feelings – whether it’s frustrations with our job or the giddy joy that comes from a new relationship.
Maybe you can only truly be yourself, when no-one knows its you. As Whisper CEO Michael Heyward says “It’s about creating a place where we’re not carrying around this 800-pound gorilla that we call our identity.”
However some of these networks have recently attracted criticism for a perceived failure to address bullying and negativity from their communities, and – ironically – protecting people’s privacy (Gwyneth Paltrow’s affair was announced on Whisper).
One person’s frank comment, could be perceived as another person’s bullying. To stop anonymity becoming a passport for anti-social behaviour, these new networks are now employing an army of real people to manually moderate user comments.
Another interesting app is a tool called Cloak – which calls itself the “anti-social” network. Say you’re trying to avoid a colleague who won’t stop bugging you about an upcoming project, or just fancy enjoying a coffee on your own. Cloak connects Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and FourSquare to see where all your friends are, allowing you to avoid an unwanted interaction.
Using mobile and social technology to avoid people, rather than find them, is a new phenomenon which may help avoid the dreaded ‘stop & chat’:
When Social Is Anti-Social
For every action, there is a reaction. For years we have been Sharing, ‘Liking’, ‘Friending’ and ‘Checking in’. The shift has been for transparency, openness, a public show on a global stage.
But perhaps it’s also in our nature to be private, to have reflective time alone, time in your ‘cave’ where you don’t feel the need to see and be seen? Maybe the social age needs some rebalancing, to a more human way of being, combining both our public and private selves.
But what do you think? Is hell other people?! Let us know in the comments section below…Find this interesting?