The “Privacy Optional” Generation

by James R. Stoup Mar 27, 2007

Today I have some questions for all my readers out there. How many of you are a part of a social network? Facebook, MySpace, Flickr (using the e is sooo last century), Twitter, Friendster (no, they’re not dead yet, I checked), or any other similar website? A show of hands please, how many? Some of you, perhaps? I know, let’s make things even broader. How many of you express yourself in some way online? Maybe you post videos to YouTube or have your own blog, doesn’t matter, anything will do. Now how many hands do I see? A lot more this time around I expect. Great, last question. How much personal information do you give out in the process of interacting online?

In attempting to answer that last question, one of the most obvious places to start looking at is your online handle. If your name is Bob Smith do you go by bsmith (or some variant), or does everyone know you as DarkKnightForestKiller68 or some other such nonsensical name? In other words, how comfortable are you sharing your real name with the great vastness of humanity that is the internet?

Speaking personally, I write under the name “James R. Stoup” and, as it turns out, that also happens to be my real name. In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, you should have noticed that all of the writers for Apple Matters use their real names. And, for what we do, I am all for using our real names. After all, writing for this site is a job. We have deadlines (which I rarely seem to meet, through no fault of my own mind you), we get paychecks (which keeps me in hamburgers if nothing else) and we have a real, live editor who reviews our material (her name is Wendy and she’s very nice). So, in keeping with the semiprofessional atmosphere we try to create, we each use our real names. Because, as I said before, this is a job. It’s a very fun job, but a job nonetheless. In fact, from the first day I signed on here, it never crossed my mind to hide behind an alias. After all, imagine if you showed up to a job interview and introduced yourself as TrixiePixie07, wouldn’t that be a bit ridiculous? So why should this be any different?

However, when I go off the clock, I leave my name behind and pick up a new ID on the way out the door. I do this for the very simple reason that I don’t want the rest of the web to know anything about me. I don’t give out my real name, location, birthday, zip code, cat’s name, favorite color, zodiac sign, or any other significant information. And I don’t act this way because I’m paranoid or because I’m afraid of someone being able to track me down; rather, I do this for the simple reason that I am a private person and have no desire to share my life with millions of strangers. Apparently, though, that attitude is becoming old fashioned.

Increasingly, users (specifically the generation that grew up always having the internet) are more and more willing to give out not only their name, but their entire life story (complete with pictures and video) to anyone willing to visit their homepage. In my opinion, this trend can be traced back to the increasing popularity of reality TV. After all, what is reality TV all about anyway? Why, taking average people and making them stars of course!

Can’t act? Don’t worry!
No talent? No problem!
With the wonders of reality TV, you too can be a star!
Regardless of how stupid, lazy, mean, self centered, or crazy you might be, Hollywood can find a place for you!

Or, at least, that’s how it looks to me. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I can state for a fact that Americans love to get their 15 minutes of fame, and many of them will try and get those minutes any way they can. We are now raising a generation unlike any before it, one convinced that they are just one lucky break away from starring in their own reality TV show. And, as insane as it sounds, it’s almost like they are preparing themselves for the crush of public attention that would follow such stardom.

Once upon a time (read: 10 years ago), if you wanted to know all of the dark and dirty secrets of a star’s life you picked up the tabloids or magazines that catered to those who absolutely must know what the stars are doing: where they eat, what they wear, who they are sleeping with, everything. Watch Entertainment Tonight (or one of its many clones) so you can catch up on what Britney Spears is doing or where Anna Nicole Smith is going to be buried. That level of scrutiny was once only reserved for celebrities, but no longer!

Now there are so many wonderful sites dedicated to bringing you all the details of the life of the average user. But there is one important point many people seem to miss: the average user’s life is just that…average. Average looks, average personality, average job, average relationships, and average intelligence. I can at least understand (though not agree) with the level of interest shown in someone like Angelina Jolie. After all, she is rich, beautiful, interesting, and always up to something unique. I can understand people wanting to know what she is doing all the time. However, I cannot fathom why average people think that anyone in the world would show the same interest in them. Thus the whole my-life-as-a-blog thing mystifies me. I want to grab some of these people and scream “nobody cares” at the top of my lungs.

Before I get scads of insulting emails, let me clarify my position. I have no problem with people documenting their lives using MySpace or Flickr. I can appreciate that you want to keep a digital record of what is happening in your life at this exact moment. However, I become annoyed at the sheer stupidity of it all when people try to turn their private life into an online adventure for all the world to see. In the same way that I don’t like air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, or light pollution, I’m none too keen on information pollution either. And, by far, the worst offender of this new trend of information pollution is Twitter.

Here is an idea that I’m amazed made it to the light of day. How did it get started? Did the creator of Twitter hear someone say “if only there was a way for me to simultaneously annoy all of the people in my buddy list with inane observations of my boring life” and decided to take up the challenge? Please, somebody clue me in, why is Twitter so popular? After all, I can buy the argument that MySpace (or any blog for that matter) and Flickr are useful tools for preserving memories. I understand that five years from now you might want to go back and read your blog posting on how you felt when your dog died or see the pictures on Flickr of your cousin from across the country. I understand that need and I follow the logic behind it. But please, somebody tell me how Twitter fits into that pattern? Five years from now are you really going to look back at messages like “that was a great ham sandwich” and fondly reflect on the memories? Come on people, it isn’t like Twitter is posting the idle ramblings of Thoreau or Shakespeare! No, it’s the mental gibberish of all those “average” users. Here is a fine sampling (these are all from the Twitter homepage mind you):

  • I, I wish you could swim, like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim.
  • I’m trying to download something from megaupload (without success at the moment…)
  • think it should be a curb day tomorrow
  • Pagliaci’s in 20.
  • Yum! Leek, snapper and prawn stew!
  • has had cheezburger
  • I think it’s gonna turn out to be both really bad and really fun..

I can’t make this stuff up.

This is the kind of information pollution that, apparently, thousands of people seem quite eager to share with the rest of us. Do you care? Because I don’t. What’s more, it isn’t just the fact that Twitter exists that bothers me. Rather, it is the fact that there are so many self-absorbed idiots out there that make it successful. Do you really want to know/work with/date/befriend someone who feels that their life is so important that every stray thought that comes out of their head has to be posted to a website, emailed to you, and then sent to your phone? What kind of people think this is a good idea? And what kind of society are we that applauds yet another attempt to garner attention to one’s self?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to America. Social responsibility has hit rock bottom and asked for a shovel.

I want to believe that this trend, like all trends, will eventually pass. I want to believe that one day people will wake up and realize that it is more important to live your life than to document it.


  • A generally insightfull article, I also am surprised that a) people don’t care about their privacy and b) that people care about other people’s irrelevant information.

    My only complaint is that “I, I wish you could swim, like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim.” is infact a quote, it’s from David Bowie’s Heroes, not entirely random.

    simo66 had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 78
  • James, this is, by far, the most entertaining article I’ve read here. And, I couldn’t agree more…
    I would argue that we haven’t had social responsibility in America in a very, very long time.

    Gabe H had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 40
  • Oh, finally something truly worth reading, it’s been a while smile

    What is missed is the idea of scale. The more idle rambling pollutes the net, the less possible it is to adequately spy on the individual using automated means. Also, in order for a great and better thing to arise, there must be a cesspit for it to arise from. What you basically lament is that the voiceless are being given a voice, usually considered one of the bigger benefits of the web. Trouble is that the utterings of the now empowered do not meet the requirements for being deemed significant. The masses are blah, and there is nothing new about that, only that now you can see it, subscribe to it, record it… They will not combine their voices and forces in order to create a better world, challenge the status quo, redefine democracy to their benefit, whatever. They do not care and they have no reservations to show it.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 371
  • Good points, Beav, but I do not think James is lamenting that the voiceless have a voice. Only what they are choosing to do with that voice.

    Having a voice is a powerful thing and to throw it away in the manner that is happening is simply a shame.

    Gabe H had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 40
  • I wasn’t aware that a site like Twitter jammed itself onto your browser without any action on your part to go there and check it out.  That is indeed a problem.

    However, if you yourself, for whatever reason, intentionally clicked on a link and went to that site and then read what it said, then you have only yourself to blame.

    Likewise, the “self-absorbed” commenters who all lament it when OTHER people dare express themselves online and find it within their generous hearts to exempt themselves somehow or other from that stinging rebuke.

    This whole article and thread is a giant steaming pile of irony.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • You can divide people on the Internet into three groups. Those who just do their thing (casual) users. Those who like to analyze the heck out of everything and pinpoint the exact detail (bloggers including me and others I know) and those who hate what the Web has turned into (you, not saying that is a bad thing). With Twitter, I think it has potential as an information delivery service but what people are using it for are bringing it down the drain.

    To be honest, no one needs an online handle, like you said you can find out the information of anyone so easily why not embrace it and utilize it?

    Tanner Godarzi had this to say on Mar 27, 2007 Posts: 70
  • Beeb, you know where you are here, there is always a little box of elitism hidden in the corner wink

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Mar 28, 2007 Posts: 371
  • Oh, finally something truly worth reading, it’s been a while
    totally agree.
    What you basically lament is that the voiceless are being given a voice…
    Yes, everyone has the right to express themselves the way they want, and Twitter has become a good option for them. It’s easier than publishing a blog, and it’s way more quick and accessible. 

    The problem is that those “voices” have nothing to say but random and senseless stuff.

    While blogs have many purposes, some of which can be useful, most people seem to use blogs as a way of having an online diary, but what about twitter? For me it is completely pointless/useless (at least for me, the owners of the site must be very pleased to have that amount of hits per day, you know, web advertisement is well rewarded).

    I dont think people at twitter are looking for some kind of attention or waiting for their words to be heared, Im pretty sure that they know that most of their post wont even be read.  They’re just posting because everyone’s doing so, and this entire phenomena is another demostration of how succeptible is the human being to follow those kind stupid trends. Or are they looking to feed their egos?
    And yet, this is another misuse of the Internet.
    Consider all the quality information that is being published all over the world, and people’s lack of interest, it annoys me, but the most annoying thing is the sense of self-importance they get after even the most modest of publicity.

    Hopefully, this Twitter trend will turn out to be just a fad that passes quickly.

    nana had this to say on Mar 28, 2007 Posts: 63
  • Gabe said: this is, by far, the most entertaining article I’ve read here.

    Bad Beaver said: Oh, finally something truly worth reading, it’s been a while

    Hmm? An article with absolutely no connection to Apple matters,  is the best ever, or at least in a long time.

    What on earth does that say about Apple and all things Apple? smile smile

    I knew Apple news has lost it’s bite since the fall of the one-button mouse and the PowerPC chip, but surely articles not about Apple can’t be better than *any* about Apple.

    Oh, the irony!

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 28, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • They’re just posting because everyone’s doing so, and this entire phenomena is another demostration of how succeptible is the human being to follow those kind stupid trends.

    Apple fans being another.

    From Nana’s sig: 1 Infinite Loop (I wish)

    The giant steaming pile of irony grows higher.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 28, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • you got me.

    nana had this to say on Mar 29, 2007 Posts: 63
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