I haven't yet waded through all of the 167 (to date) responses of various academics and essayists, but one by Sherry Turkle, MIT psychologist, caught my eye. It addresses what she calls the disconnect of internet communication: the fact that it is public and permanent, even though it feels private to users; and that it is shaping the psychological and political sensibility of young people, who are resigned to the lack of privacy.
Julia, eighteen, says "I've heard that school authorities and local police can get into your Facebook," but doesn't want to know the details. "I live on Facebook" she explains, and "I don't want to be upset." A seventeen-year-old girl thinks that Facebook "can see everything," but even though "you can try to get Facebook to change things," it is really out of her hands.
She sums up: "That's just the way it is." A sixteen-year-old girl says that even without privacy, she feels safe because "No one would care about my little life." For all the talk of a generation empowered by the Net, the question of online privacy brings out claims of intentionally vague understandings and protests of impotence. This is a life of resignation: teens are sure that at some point their privacy will be invaded, but that this is the course of doing business in their world.
Do check out her whole essay, in which she writes of her own grandparents who were Eastern Europeans and who lived in a society where it was assumed that one's mail could be, and was, read.
She also reminds us of psychologist Erik Erikson's argument about the adolescent need for "a time and space for relatively consequence-free experimentation" in which to "fall in and out of love with people and ideas" - something any parent of a teenager could tell you is important.
Facebook is not that space, especially since, according to Computerworld, CEO Mark Zuckerberg contends that privacy just isn't that important to people anymore.
Last word to Dr. Turkle:
In democracy, perhaps we all need to begin with the assumption that everyone has something to hide, a zone of private action and reflection, a zone that needs to be protected.
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