Are Privacy Concerns for Old Fogies?

Have you ever heard the phrase “the one constant is change”?

Or perhaps the original version, uttered (according to Wikipedia) thousands of years ago by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, which was more along the lines of “Everything flows, nothing stands still”?

As we all get older, it’s hard to argue with such expressions, since as much as we all might feel like we’re still smack-dab in our prime as a professional, and on top of our game, NEW concepts and NEW ways of doing business inevitably creep into play, right under our noses.  And before we know it, unless we pay close attention and adapt to these new trends, we’ll quickly go from being the rising young star in an organization to being the “grumpy old troll” with the cubicle in the corner — who seems to still to think the business world works the way it did in, say, 1996.  And has a wardrobe to follow suit.

On this note, it’s been interesting to note some of the profound changes that have taken place in the job market, and the world as a whole, over the past decade or two.  In previous articles, like the one here, I’ve talked about related issues, such as my decision to finally get a smart phone, not because I really wanted or needed one, but simply because I felt it was an imperative step to keeping up with the times.  Similarly, I wrote another article here a while back, discussing whether the pace of change had accelerated so much that (scary concept) YOUNGER professionals actually now had more to teach OLDER professionals, versus the other way around!  (and if you like that article, click the one here, too, where a 30-year-old reader weighs in on the subject and makes some great points…)

So what’s the latest “paradigm shift” that might be creating a schism between older and younger professionals?  Based on some of the chatter I’ve seen out there, it might be the issue of privacy.  While most of us grew up in a world where it was really important to keep your personal information, interests, and activities closely guarded, and away from prying eyes, younger generations don’t seem to have as much of a hang-up around this issue.  They’re “living their lives out loud” and not really looking back, from what I can tell.  At least many of them.  Check out the recent WSJ article below, for example, featuring an interview with Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn.

Wall Street Journal Article on Reid Hoffman: June 23, 2011

Did you happen to catch the very last line in the article?  If not, look again, since it’s the juicy one.  It attributes Mr.  Hoffman as saying that privacy is “primarily an issue with old people.”

Wow!  That’s quite the little bombshell of a statement!  If fact, this remark has spawned a WAVE of rebuttals and discussion from various thought leaders around the country, such as the remarks in General Counsel magazine here or similar remarks from job board owner Marc Cenedella, here.  For the most part, these people are railing against Mr. Hoffman and suggesting he’s simply trying to get us all to let down our guard for his own selfish business interests, so that he can do some nefarious things with the invaluable data we’ve all willingly uploaded about ourselves onto the LinkedIn platform.

And maybe they’re right.  But I’m not as convinced, because when I hang around twenty-somethings on occasion these days, or work with them as clients, they DON’T seem nearly as concerned about privacy as the rest of us.  It’s no big deal to them.  They grew up in a world where you pretty much just scattered your personal information, contact information, social comings-and-goings and other data out into the winds of cyberspace and didn’t much worry about it.  And if you get burned by an embarrasing photo or some minor identity theft, every now and then, that’s just the price you pay — and life goes on.

So personally, I’m starting to believe that the privacy debate may be the next big cultural tipping point — or mega-trend — that will begin creating an important wedge between various age demographics out in the world of work.  As more and more younger employees start companies, or assume executive roles in organizations, we may inevitably start seeing decisions where privacy isn’t factored into the mix as much as we’ve been used to, historically, and where those people who stand up, get indignant, and make a big stink about it suddenly start to appear…outdated.

Could be wrong, of course, but it certainly seemed like an interesting issue worth talking about.  Your thoughts?

P.S.  To give full credit where credit is due, Generation Y blogger Penelope Trunk started talking about this issue YEARS ago, when few people were really paying attention.  Read some of her fascinating posts here and here on the subject, or the related NPR story she cites here.  And if your immediate reaction to this whole discussion is “That’s crazy — privacy is still extremely important” you definitely owe it to yourself to read the above links and hear the other side of the story!

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5 Responses to “Are Privacy Concerns for Old Fogies?”

  1. It’s like Siddhartha Gautama (aka “The Enlightened One”, the Buddha) said: “All things change. Nothing composite is immutable.” and you know that you are getting old(er) when you feel the cultural moorings upon which you built your life start to drift away from you. and it is a very unsettling feeling, but to quote the iggerant youf of today, “Get over it.”

    as for privacy, if you post something of your own free will (one of the great illusions of all times), it’s like eating chocolate: a moment on the lips, forever on the hips. words, like arrows, can never be called back once they are let fly. so, “fuggedaboudit” would seem to be the operant phrase.

    privacy these days means that you have told no other living breathing human being what you think. i remind you of the legend of King Midas’ barber: he had to shave the king and saw the king’s ass’ ears. he couldn’t tell anyone lest he suffer the removal of his head from his body at the neck, so he dug a hole in the ground, whispered into it the phrase “The king has ass’ ears” and covered up the hole. he thought that he was done, but the phrase was transmitted by the grass on the wind rustling through it. today, the electronic wind breezily disseminates (disovulates?) what we believe to be private. don’t tell Nobody, not even yourself. Unhear your own thoughts!

  2. CareerHorizonsFan October 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Nice article with good links. Who exactly is Reid Hoffman referring to as “old,” given that he is mid-40’s? Is he talking about a 50 year old (5 ancient years older than he is)? I think his negative reference to “old people” wanting their privacy is just another example of the negative, ageist lingo that permeates the hiring market today. The fact is that even though “age discrimination” may be prohibited by law, it routinely occurs in subtle or sometimes not so subtle ways that leave the aggrieved individual few if any remedies – especially when they were not hired for a position because the interviewer wanted to hire someone younger for whatever reason (i.e. hipper and closer to interviewer’s age, could be paid less because not so experienced, more “flexible” which often means doesn’t know or expect to be treated with respect and like a human being in a decent working environment with benefits).

    I like Linkedin’s broadening the ability to connect with professionals who aren’t in your geographic area and who you otherwise would likely never meet or come into contact with (you can only attend so many conventions, seminars, etc…in a lifetime). I like learning about the businesses, backgrounds, and business thinking of these individuals who put their profiles on Linkedin. I do not want to know if they go out drinking beer 4 nights a week, if they like football better than soccer, if they have just dumped their 4th girlfriend and are now on to number 5, etc…things better left for Facebook for those who don’t value their “privacy” and who post the intimate details of their personal lives for all the world (or a selected “friend list”) to see. I also don’t think that a hiring decision should be based on knowing the intimate details of someone’s personal life – what, after all, does this really have to do with their job performance (unless they’re dumb enough to post details about issues like substance abuse/dependency, lack of personal reliability as in…I was late to work 5 times this week HA HA…, or significant irresponsible behavior)?

    If being sensible enough to value a certain degree of personal privacy in online posting makes me an “old person,” then so be it! I have friends and family who know the personal things about me that I share with them. I see no advantage or reason to openly post these things about myself for anyone who is online to view and potentially abuse the information.
    ~ A former data miner who likes their privacy!

  3. I wonder, are people truly giving up their privacy, or are their public profiles just a branding exercise and they still hide what they are truly thinking or doing?

    Alternatively, has the nature of privacy merely changed? The way we dress and the things we discuss freely at the dinner table would be unthinkable to our grandparents. Whereas the kitchen was off limits to guests in previous generations, we now build our kitchens specifically for guests.

    Is the real truth about this notion of changing privacy that we’re simply old enough to find it today’s values at odds with our own? Do those 20somthings still have a notion of privacy,but just not about the things that are important to us?

  4. Matt,

    Age does give wisdom. Youth is care free.

    Electronic media does penetrate into personal details and is very hard to control. Like all technology, there is much good with it but very bad things can happen as well.

    Speak to someone who lost their ID and the life changing things that can happen like jail time. Yes, privacy is an illusion. But one does not need to aid and assist others that would do you harm. Simple – ads just for you. Or, some one takes your money! You choice how free you want to be but you don’t control your own privacy now!

  5. Matt, loved your post, thanks!

    For those of you who think you can still live a “private” life – Google yourself and see what turns up.

    Here’s an illustration of the lack of privacy with publicly available information. There is a website (out of respect for everyone reading this post I won’t name it) where you can enter a person’s name and the state they live in, and that query will return name (and other “known as” names), age, city, state. For an additional fee, one can get more information than that!

    I have run these queries for myself and family members…it’s spooky dead-on.

    Privacy in 2011? Maybe someone else can define that better than I can!

    -Price

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