The Pew Internet folks have a new report, Millennials will make online sharing in networks a lifelong habit, based on recent research they’ve done.
The highly engaged, diverse set of respondents to an online, opt-in survey included 895 technology stakeholders and critics. The study was fielded by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.
Some 67% agreed with the statement:
“By 2020, members of Generation Y (today’s “digital natives”) will continue to be ambient broadcasters who disclose a great deal of personal information in order to stay connected and take advantage of social, economic, and political opportunities. Even as they mature, have families, and take on more significant responsibilities, their enthusiasm for widespread information sharing will carry forward.”
Some 29% agreed with the opposite statement, which posited:
“By 2020, members of Generation Y (today’s “digital natives”) will have “grown out” of much of their use of social networks, multiplayer online games and other time-consuming, transparency-engendering online tools. As they age and find new interests and commitments, their enthusiasm for widespread information sharing will abate.”
Most of those surveyed noted that the disclosure of personal information online carries many social benefits as people open up to others in order to build friendships, form and find communities, seek help, and build their reputations. They said Millennials have already seen the benefits and will not reduce their use of these social tools over the next decade as they take on more responsibilities while growing older.
The majority argued in answers to the survey that new social norms that reward disclosure are already in place among the young The experts also expressed hope that society will be more forgiving of those whose youthful mistakes are on display in social media such as Facebook picture albums or YouTube videos.
Some said new definitions of “private” and “public” information are taking shape in networked society. They argued that this means that Millennials might change the kinds of personal information they share as they age, but the aging process will not fundamentally change the incentives to share.
At the same time, some experts said an awkward trial-and-error period is unfolding and will continue over the next decade, as people adjust to new realities about how social networks perform and as new boundaries are set about the personal information that is appropriate to share.
A fundamental shift is occurring in human identity and activity in communities. As often is the case, some of it is driven by social change that is facilitated by technological change, especially the new capabilities offered by mobile devices. The benefits to people of sharing information and disclosing details about themselves are becoming more evident. These perceived benefits will change over time as Millennials’ interests change, but the general pattern for disclosure will remain. The historic pattern is for each generation to change the boundaries of privacy and identity.
“Although I am a privacy scholar, and one who has been taken aback by the careless abandon with which the young, and not so young seem to revel in visibility, I have to assume that it is not merely ignorance that leads so many astray. To the best of their knowledge, the benefits outweigh the costs. And besides, there is this industry that continues, and will continue to make it seem almost normal to be so completely accessible. I can’t imagine the kind of well-publicized catastrophe, or counter-movement that would arise (well, I can, but I wouldn’t want dwell on those scenarios) that would lead to less, rather than more disclosure.” —Oscar Gandy, author, activist, retired emeritus professor of communication, University of Pennsylvania
“Publicy will replace privacy. Privacy will appear quaint, like wearing gloves and veils in church.” —Stowe Boyd, social networks specialist, analyst, activist, blogger, futurist and researcher