For several weeks the tech world, and much of the mainstream population, has been buzzing with discussion around Facebook and privacy. It turns out that Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook’s founder and CEO) and his crew think sharing, and not privacy, should be the new default and they had set out to make that a reality. The anxiety really hit full throttle during the Facebook developer conference when Zuckerburg announced some significant changes around who has access to the data that Facebook collects and how it might be used. People are angry and confused. Some senators have even authored a letter to Zuckerburg asking him to rethink the default privacy settings they were rolling out. Then last week Zuckerberg announced that Facebook has decided to readdress the default settings and make it easier for people to keep their information under wraps. Still, people are continuing to react to and push back on the issue of privacy and protections around information they share online. There are boycotts of Facebook in the works. This is serious business – not a day has passed without some significant, front page media coverage of the controversy.
I strongly believe this discussion, as loud and emotional as it feels, is necessary because it is shaping the bigger issue of evolution – ours and how we communicate. But, believe it or not, this blog post isn’t really about the privacy settings themselves. Instead, this post is about something I’ve been considering for quite some time and it has only become more obvious to me since the volume of this privacy discussion has gotten so loud. In some ways I think Zuckerburg forcing our hands on the issue of privacy is also forcing something we should have instinctively been better about. Because we’re suddenly so concerned about who has access to all of our personal information I think we’re also suddenly being much more thoughtful about what we choose to share. The bite in the butt is — we should have seen this as a critical issue and been this thoughtful all along. But, as the saying goes, better late than never. We are all curators of content, archivers, historians and storytellers. This is a much bigger responsibility than we imagined when we started posting pictures of ourselves in our underwear standing next to the keg (present company excluded, of course). Wherever Facebook ends up in this privacy debate, whether or not they actually address the concerns of the public, really doesn’t matter. All of us are starting to realize a new responsibility – to ourselves and to our current and future audiences.
It used to be that only certain stories – the more polished or politically appropriate stories – were published for the world to see. Publishers decided what was worthy of mass consumption. The rest of the world were consumers of print and, eventually, consumers of all media. All media worked like this and people got rich off of it. Big newspaper publishers decided what was news and got rich. Big motion picture studios decided what was entertainment and got rich. Big television networks decided what was worthy of our living rooms. The media in the last few years has become fragmented by social media and consumer generated content. But the term consumer ‘generated’ doesn’t really tell the whole story, does it? We aren’t just ‘generating’ or ‘creating’ content, we’re publishing it – to a global audience. And because of the immediacy and the ease-of-use of the technology we’ve significantly underestimated the reach, or potential reach of our content. When the big rich media tycoons owned everything we didn’t think twice about distribution and reach. Now that we are contributing to this global archive and telling our stories – we still aren’t thinking twice about distribution and reach. What’s more, because of the immediacy of the experience of publishing, we aren’t really thinking about the importance of the content. See, because we are all (suddenly) historians, archivists, story-tellers. We are all recording history — our own, our family history, brand stories. It seems to me if we start thinking of it as something that carries a little more weight, something that has more cultural importance, then suddenly the issue of Facebook privacy pales in comparison to our responsibility as content creators. I guess I am just suggesting that instead of demonizing Facebook (which is really so easy to do) it’s time to think bigger picture. It’s time to recognize that communication and the documentation of history and the sharing of stories looks much different than in past generations and it’s just going to continue to change. Instead of worrying whether or not Facebook is going to let the world, or future employers see pictures of you with your pants on your head, I would suggest you simply be more thoughtful when you consider publishing those (granted, sometimes you have no choice because someone else does it for you). I just can’t help but feel that we are having the wrong conversations. Instead of pushing for privacy, which is clearly changing and certainly isn’t the default, perhaps we should push for thoughtfulness and responsibility in the telling of our stories.
This privacy thing – it’s a losing battle. We are everywhere. We’re dropping little breadcrumbs of our lives everywhere we go online and when you add to that all of the intentional or inadvertent content we create or contribute to then you must know there are whole and detailed profiles about you just under the hood of the internet. Yes, some things are sacred — like social security numbers and how much you weigh. But think about it – they are sacred because WE (that’s the collective we – which means everybody) treat them that way. It’s a culturally accepted fact that social security numbers are sacred. It used to be a cultural reality that stories were sacred. Passed down from generation to generation and shared during special occasions. Maybe they were embellished with detail for dramatic flair, but that was done with reverence and out of pride. Now stories are just immediate – someone shoves a beer bong up their nose, someone else takes video of it, and we don’t think twice about sharing that with the world. I’m not suggesting that a beer bong in the nose is not share-worthy. I am suggesting though, that if all you share is beer bong stunts than you become the beer bong guy and is that really who you want to be? You get my drift. There is a need for maybe a little more reverence in how we communicate. No – this doesn’t mean we are not humorous or ironic or even inappropriate. I think we really need to start thinking about telling the stories that are worthy of our time and energy and attention. What picture are you painting? What legacy are you leaving? When it’s all compiled – someday, by someone else, looking to discover who we were in this bygone era – well, who will we be? A generation fighting against an inevitable evolution? Or a generation that embraced change and recognized our responsibility within it? I, for one, would like to be among the latter. I am blessed by the brilliant people in my world, a career I am passionate about, a fantastic family, a good life. There’s a story there. I’m going to tell it.