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Privacy Dies as Distance Between Generations Grows

September 3, 2009

Privacy Dies as Distance Between Generations Grows

It's no secret that the pace of change is accelerating. The more innovations we create, the faster the next ones will come. And we're now even innovating the process of innovation itself, with companies doing "experiments" with small subsets of customers to test new ideas and bring things to market so much faster. Cycle times are accelerating, inventions get to market faster, and life continues to speed up.

Observing this from my own perspective as a man in his 50's, it occurs to me that as the pace of innovation has picked up, the distance between the generations has also increased. That is, our own children are much more different from their parents than we were from our parents. And I suspect, as the pace of change continues to increase, our children's children will be even more different from their parents.

A very interesting example of this widening, technology-induced generational gap can be seen in the different attitudes that people of different ages take toward the issue of privacy. There is a noticeable difference between the way the younger generation - people under, say, 25 or 30 - and older generations view privacy. For older types, privacy invasion is an evil to be warded off, a danger to be shunned. But for the younger generation, privacy is just not an issue.

Your can try this for yourself: Ask any 20-something with online experience about his or her view of privacy protection, and see if you can elicit anything other than a polite stare of incomprehension. Privacy? WTF, dude? You mean we should NOT post those swimming suit photos on Facebook?

This doesn't mean that the younger generation is reckless, however. In fact, I would say just the opposite. The social media generation has grown up to be suspicious and cynical when it comes to commercial uses of their attention span. They trust their friends way more than they trust their parents' companies trying to sell them things, or their parents' government trying to "protect" them. And one of the key ingredients of trustworthy behavior is straight-talking transparency - a quality that has never been very common among 20th Century advertising, marketing, or public relations professionals (and I'm one of them, so I am free to say this).

But you know what? When you only do business with people and companies you trust, then you really don't have to worry much about privacy protection, do you? And what the younger generation is saying is, why should we ever deal with someone we don't trust?



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