Neal Freeland

Engineering/marketing manager, family guy. My personal blog with a few work thoughts mixed in.

Why Posts Want to Be Public: An Explanation for Boomers

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Today is Data Privacy Day, which is a good occasion to think about why anyone shares personal information online.

Over Christmas holiday I had a couple of long conversations with my father-in-law, which I turned into a post. My in-laws really loved what they read, and were very thankful for it, but my father-in-law felt vaguely uncomfortable knowing that anyone who searched his name could read it and see a photo of his house. He couldn’t say exactly why, it just didn’t feel right. He is a very modest person who values his privacy and keeps his phone number unlisted. So I took the post down (update: a redacted version that addresses his concerns is back up).

It started to make me think more about generational differences in attitudes towards privacy. My father-in-law was born a bit before the baby boom generation, and still values his privacy strongly. Members of the net generation (roughly under 30) have never really known a time without the Internet, and are completely comfortable posting personal information online. This sometimes causes problems as Jon Favreau, the highly talented 27 year old speech writer for Obama’s campaign, found out when he was tagged in this photo on Facebook. It was only up for two hours but the damage was done – it spread everywhere and can’t be taken back, ever. Clinton graciously defused the incident by replying that she heard he was interested in a position at State.

Jon Favreau parties with Hilary.

But if posting too much can cause trouble, so can posting too little. A search on a former co-worker at Microsoft, Bob Visse, used to return a blog post titled “Bob Visse is a Big Fat Liar.” Bob is a professional marketer and has run PR teams, so he has pretty thick skin. But I think it bothered him to have this attack on his reputation be the first thing anyone would see if the searched on his name, especially as the post was inaccurate. Fortunately, Bob is a Microsoft executive and frequently quoted in press articles, and the inaccurate post no longer surfaces. This of course just highlights the importance of posting about yourself online: if you don’t do it, others will, and you might not like how they define you.

In addition to managing your reputation, there are other benefits to sharing information online. For example, my blog has helped me cope with serious family illness, remember details about great vacations, reflect on books read, hone my marketing skills, step back from the weariness of child rearing and appreciate what my children are teaching me, mourn the passing of a great teacher, and ponder the meaning of life, all while making me a better writer. None of this would have happened if I didn’t have a blog open to the public. Just knowing someone might look at it (even if the data says no one really does) makes me put in a different kind of creative effort. In this way I guess blogging is sort of like painting. You can store the painting safely in a locked closet, but it only becomes real when others see it hung on a public wall.

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Written by nealfreeland

January 28, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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