Posted by: Jenn Deering Davis | December 18, 2007

adults and privacy

So everyone’s been talking about Pew’s most recent research report, this one about identity management online. Specifically, this report discusses self-Googling (which, no matter how old I get, is always going to make me giggle just a little bit) and the ways adults and teenagers manage their privacy online.

I don’t have anything that new or different to say about these results, but I wanted to take a minute to think about what it means to be one of those “young adults” profiled in the study. At some points in the report, Pew differentiates simply between teens and adults, while at other times the adults category is broken out by smaller age ranges. So I would fall into the category of 18-29 year olds. Which seems like a big range to me – as someone rapidly approaching the top end of this group, I feel like my web habits are quite different than those of an 18 or 19 year old.

I imagine that people near the limits of all age ranges feel like this. But I wonder if we wouldn’t learn something very important from focusing on this bridge group. Sure, people in their 20s are technically, biologically adults – many of them even have children of their own- but they (we) are only recently removed from their teen years. They live right on the border between youth and adulthood, and as such, can offer interesting perspectives from both viewpoints. College students are easy and plentiful targets for academic studies, but they can also provide useful insight into these kinds of issues.

Nick Carr suggests – somewhat sarcastically, of course – that one reason adults may not worry so much about privacy is that they don’t have as much crazy stuff to worry about keeping private. Sure, the older a person is, the fewer keg stands she does (that kind of gymnastics is really bad for my aging back). But I know plenty of adults (and not just the 18-29 year olds) who have all kinds of crazy things to keep private, for possibly more significant reasons than teenagers. Identity theft, losing jobs, getting kicked out of school, or worse – what if your kids Google you? I wonder why more adults aren’t more concerned. This is where I think this bridge group of young adults is important.

We can learn a great deal about this and similar issues by talking to those who, though they may be very comfortable with technology and have been online a long time, they have not always done it. Many of us have only been using the internet since high school or college, less than half our lives. So instead of growing up using tools like Facebook and IM, we’ve had to learn it along the way. But we started learning when we were young, so it’s not very difficult for us. It’s just that we are caught somewhere between the millennials with their superspeed texting and web businesses they started when they were 12 and the seniors who finally got a Yahoo account to look at pictures of their grandchildren (forgive these simplistic stereotypes; I’m just making a point). I think it’s this group that can help us understand more about really what’s going here.

But maybe I think that because I’m one of those young adults and I just want people to pay attention to me. I’m interesting, really; just check out my Flickr page. Though, to really see how interesting I am, you’ll have to be one of my friends since I’ve made all the really interesting pictures private.



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