I am forty-four years old and I consider myself a member of the “Transition Generation.” I remember life before computers. The first home computer I had was a TI-994A, which plugged into a television for a monitor. You could insert cartridges to play games (anyone remember Parsec? Hunt the Wumpus?), and you could practice BASIC programming. If you wanted to save your programs, you needed to hook up a cassette recorder and use that.
That was 1982-83, when I was about thirteen, and I know there are people out there today under a certain age who probably don’t know what BASIC is, or a cassette tape. They don’t know about the days of using a modem to dial up (via your landline, kids) to a BBS, and monochrome monitors and all that good stuff.
What do kids know today? They know cable modems, fiber optics, FIOS, wireless routers in the house, smart phones and all that good stuff. They know instant connection and instant communication. They are growing up in a different world, technologically.
This isn’t good or bad, either. It just is. We all grow up with technology that the preceding generations did not grow up with. Some of it puzzles them, just as some of what my kids have or will have will likely puzzle me. But for the most part, it’s neither good nor bad, it just is.
The World Wide Web is twenty-five years old this year, I’ve seen, and it’s brought social changes faster than probably about any time in history. It’s been easier or faster to connect with people, and you don’t even have to know them. Fads go in and out of mind in a matter of days, sometimes. But they don’t go away forever.
Because that is one thing that computers, the Internet, the Web, whatever, have changed — everything on the web is stored. You can’t delete a tweet before it’s cached somewhere and hence available to those who will make the effort. And the fact that people don’t seem to realize this baffles me.
One of my first thoughts, and even my mom’s, when Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal broke in New Jersey was: Did these people not realize email is stored? That just because it is out of your program’s trash been does not mean that it is gone forever?
Every time someone tweets something, or emails it, or posts a picture and then wonders how it spun out of control, I have to think — did you not see this possibility?
Now, of course, most of us don’t. Most of us probably — and rightly — think that we are simply too small to really garner that kind of attention, and I think that’s true. Even so, I have even checked myself when about to make Facebook posts or similar things and thought, “Will this get noticed? Will it offend someone?” And if I can’t decide, I don’t post. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
So when I see some celebrity, even a lower-wattage one, make a stupid tweet/post/picture, and then be surprised at the reaction, I can’t figure it out. When Christie’s people sent emails back and forth, I thought, did they not realize someone else would see this? How could they not realize that emails sent to and from computers and servers at their place of employment would not eventually be seen?
I think it’s a mindset we haven’t yet adopted. When the only, or primary, way of contacting people far away was a letter, you could be fairly sure it remained private. Sure, it passed through various hands, but I doubt most of those hands had the opportunity or even time to open individual letters on the off-chance there was something juicy inside. Our current technology makes that easier and faster.
Kids growing up today probably won’t give this privacy issue much thought unless others point it out. When you grow up with something, you tend not to question it unless someone else does. We of the older — or shall we say, previous — generation might have something to contribute here, that privacy is valuable, and you shouldn’t give it away without a blink.
So you need to be careful what you tweet and what you post and realize that once it’s out there, you have lost control of it. If you don’t want to lose control, then keep it off the internet.
Privacy is important, but you have to proactively take steps to maintain it.