Millennials don’t seem to care that Facebook and other companies harvest their data for profit. At least that’s the premise of a recent opinion piece in the New York Post. It suggests that millennials are consigned to the fact that, in order to have the many advantages that the new tech world provides, there has to be a sacrifice. If you are a millennial, I would be interested in your reaction to this premise and others which follow.
Millennials seem more comfortable with the notion that if a product is free then you are the product, and allow themselves to be an ’’open book” for all to see. As it will be revealed later, the opinion piece opines that this is not true of previous generations who appear to be more guarded with their privacy. Of course, previous generations had fewer threats to their privacy to go along with markedly less availability to information, entertainment, and communication (just to name a few).
So it is not necessarily fair to single out the millennials as if they were some alien outliers. Although, like aliens, they come from and live in different worlds to their predecessors. I mean, book burning was non-existent before Guttenberg’s printing press printed books, and there wasn’t a need for fallout shelters until the world went nuclear. In fact, you could make a case that the dangerous, crazy world that was passed on to millennials, and that they now inherit, may make the exposure of their personal information to the public seem tame by comparison. Not to mention that heavy engagement with social media and the like is a needed distraction from modern life!
Besides, no one would have guessed some fifteen years ago that Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room doodle would morph into the behemoth of a business model it is today – replete with its invasive algorithms. Who could have imagined that social media companies could learn our political leanings, our likes and dislikes, our religious affiliations, and our sexual orientations and proclivities? If I, or some other legal or law enforcement entity want to retrace my activities on a given day – that is easily and readily accessible from my smartphone.
As millennials blithely rollover to the tech gods when it comes to filleting themselves publicly, the article takes them (and others) to task for handwringing and breathlessly expressing surprise and outrage at Cambridge Analytica for just working with the leeway given to them. Of course, if the company had helped Hillary Clinton win the Whitehouse instead of purportedly boosting the prospects of the odious ogre, Trump, there likely wouldn’t have been the same angst – or so the piece posits.
Be that as it may, the question must be asked: what did Cambridge Analytica do that countless other companies haven’t done? I mean, why should it be treated any differently by Facebook because it’s a political firm and not an avaricious advertising scavenger? The other Silicon Valley savants – Google, Apple, and Microsoft – all monetize your information. They are eager to invite advertisers, researchers, and government agencies to discover your treasure trove of personal information through them.
And millennials, as well as those of other generations, are only too willing, it seems, to provide such information- and in massive amounts. Indeed, they seem to relish, in a race to the bottom, who can post the most content, photos, and the like. They seem to be ambivalent about the inevitable fallout. “So what?” they say, “I’ve got nothing to hide.”
The article questions if those of previous generations would be so forthcoming, citing the so-called Greatest Generation eschewing the telephone if it meant that the government could eavesdrop on their conversations with impunity. On the contrary, millennials, it would appear, view the lack of privacy and the co-opting of personal information as the price for the plethora of pleasures that the digital medium supplies.
As Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly said in his 2016 book, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future:
“If today’s social media has taught us anything about ourselves as a species, it is that the human impulse to share overwhelms the human impulse for privacy.”
What do you think? Is it a fair assessment of the current state of affairs?
Image credit: By AYA images/Shutterstock.