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Creole Media

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"It's been a long time since there was a true generation gap, perhaps 50 years," writes Emily Nussbaum in New York. But in the MySpace era, a new gap has emerged:

[W]e are in the sticky center of a vast psychological experiment, one that's only just begun to show results. More young people are putting more personal information out in public than any older person ever would–and yet they seem mysteriously healthy and normal, save for an entirely different definition of privacy. From their perspective, it's the extreme caution of the earlier generation that's the narcissistic thing….Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

So it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn't exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones. For someone like me, who grew up sealing my diary with a literal lock, this may be tough to accept. But under current circumstances, a defiant belief in holding things close to your chest might not be high-minded. It might be an artifact–quaint and naive, like a determined faith that virginity keeps ladies pure.

Clay Shirky offers Nussbaum one way to frame the shift, comparing it to the contrast between pidgin and creole tongues:

"Do you know that distinction? Pidgin is what gets spoken when people patch things together from different languages, so it serves well enough to communicate. But Creole is what the children speak, the children of pidgin speakers. They impose rules and structure, which makes the Creole language completely coherent and expressive, on par with any language. What we are witnessing is the Creolization of media."

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  1. So, am I understanding correctly? Shirky is stating that the media is imposing rules and structure that would make the media coherent and expressive? lol…I must be dumb. I don’t get the fucking media.

  2. Well that is AMAZING I don’t know what I would do without NEWSPAPERS to inform me about the BIZARRE PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPERIMENTS being conducted by the underground youth culture these days.

  3. So it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones

    Or the far more likely possibility that young people are stupid, and generally require some reasonable amount of life experience before developing the ability to make decisions that don’t come back years later to bite them in the ass.

  4. The children are our future.

  5. Shut your fool mouth, woman, and pass me the pipe.

  6. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not…So it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones.

    As most of this has materialized in just over a decade, it’s a little premature to declare young people sane and privacy dead.

    Is an older person (like say, a 32-year-old) insane for trying to purge the web of photos of himself beer-bonging at a frat party so he can get a job at a Big Six accounting firm?

    Is an aging draft dodger insane because he resents that he can’t vacation in Vancouver now that Canadian Border Authorities can find out he got busted for smoking pot in 1972 and deny him entry?

    The shift in privacy on the part of children has not met an accompanying shift by those who evaluate others’ judgement. The ramifications of these children’s actions have not been felt yet.

    So rather than declare privacy dead and children sane (as if sanity has anything to do with this in the first place) I’d say we’re priming for a backlash in a few years.

  7. Or the far more likely possibility that young people are stupid, and generally require some reasonable amount of life experience before developing the ability to make decisions that don’t come back years later to bite them in the ass.

    Young people are not stupid, they’re inexperienced. Not at all the same thing, and sometimes inexperience is beneficial as it leads to experimentation and thus innovation.

    Old people are experienced, and that’s why they’re usually more closed-minded and conservative. They aren’t as likely to make mistakes, but they don’t come up with anything new either.

    That having been said, I don’t think putting up a MySpace page means that you don’t have a private life as well.

  8. I think also Nussbaum might be making the whole idea way too meta. I mean, as a 20-something with a group of friends around the same age (older than the teenagers in her piece), we don’t sit around and think “wow, this Myspace page is a great commentary on the pervasive surveillance in modern America!”

    Honestly, the much more cavalier attitudes we have about our private lives (in general, of course), have far more to do with shows like Sex and the City and the voyeurism of reality TV, which turned outrageous personal behavior into a spectator sport, than any broader socio-political concerns.

    And here’s the kicker: we think it’s great.

  9. Young people are not stupid, they’re inexperienced

    I rephrase. Not stupid — ignorant. They are both ignorant, and inexperienced.

    Plenty of open minded “old people” have come up with new ideas.

    The difference between ignorant and stupid is that ignorance can be cured.

    Of course, most young people already think they know everything.

  10. LMFAO @noobz. TFA sux0rz, tmtoyh

  11. Also they (the young people) won’t get off my lawn.

  12. Joshua: Nussbaum isn’t saying that MySpace, Facebook, etc. are a deliberate commentary on the word; she’s saying they represent a different way of perceiving the world.

    Sorry if that didn’t come through in the extract I posted. The whole article is worth reading.

  13. Is there any point to MySpace? The people I know who use it seem weirdly obsessed with it. It really defines their social life. I’m pretty wary, based on what I’ve seen of it so far, which has seemed pretty inane.

  14. Is there any point to MySpace?

    Myspace is primitive social networking software that has power for the same reason AIM would eventually overshadow ICQ. Despite the technical superiority of the version used by computer geeks, the primitive version has more power because it commands the attention of more YOUNG PEOPLE.

  15. Is there any point to MySpace?

    All I know is that there are a lot of crappy, impossible-to-navigate MySpace pages out there. Almost every band I go to that has one, you can’t find what you’re looking for.

    I don’t think putting up a MySpace page means that you don’t have a private life as well.

    True…but putting up comments on your sex life, who you have a crush on and what you did on your date last night sure do minimize it.

  16. So, am I understanding correctly? Shirky is stating that the media is imposing rules and structure that would make the media coherent and expressive? lol…I must be dumb. I don’t get the fucking media.

    No, that’s not what he’s saying at all. He’s saying that the consumers of media are starting to impose rules and structure that make sense of media. The media themselves have little to nothing to do with it. Work on those reading comprehension skills.

  17. I think it goes beyond the fact that young people recognize that they are being tracked, they are far more frank and honest and open than previous generations. If you grow up seeing a commercial for cialis and another one for feminine products why would you assume these are private matters? If television talk shows you grow up with feature screwed up families airing their problems for a national television audiance why would you think it odd to type your family’s problems for all to see on the internet? I have noticed this attitude is especially prevalent among those who are known as the “indigo children.”

  18. MadPad, you got it right. Although I think there will be a corresponding shift in employers attitudes towards this digitally recorded, unseemly behavior. Jobs need workers.

    gMamba, MySpace isnt the point. Think of high school social life. it can be boiled down to one word, communication. If it was like my HS, everyone in everyones biness, goofing off on the weekends, talking about it during the week. Now filter it through internet technology. Your own digital scrapbook. Perfect for the teenage narcissist.

    The point of the article is different perspective post 30 year olds have towards digital privacy vs those who’ve grown up with it. As professionals, we can and want to deny our teenage indiscretions. They cannot so easily, but they dont want to either.

  19. As an 18-25-year-old, I don’t use myspace. It’s full of crappy musicians trying to build a fanbase, and most of the women are either skanks, teenage skanks, or 40-year-old men trolling for the above.

  20. FWIW: my 1.5 cents

    Privacy really seems to be a 20th Century idea to me. When the bulk of humanity used to live in very small communities, there was no such thing as privacy. Even today, if you’ve ever lived in a small community, you know that everyone knows everyone else’s business. Only very large cities ever offered any sort of anonymity. Visit some small communities in, say, the Amazon basin–as I did once on some missionary work–and you’ll understand what lack of privacy really means. There, among hunter-gatherer societies, everyone (even the children) know all about your health, your beliefs, your desires, your sexuality, even your body.

    I read much about medieval Europe. I am always surprised at how little privacy anyone, peasant or king, ever had. Servants slept in the same room with their master! Births were witnessed by dozens.

    Privacy is highly unusual in human history. Losing it once again could simply be a return to our original state. The only fact of the current loss of privacy which really disturbs me is not that my private details are known to many others, but that I don’t have the same information about those others.

    I would not mind going naked, so long as everyone else is also naked. I would not mind being seen, so long as I can also see those looking at me.

  21. young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones.

    Since it’s mainly older people that have created the technology that allow public lives, install surveillance cameras and regularly pass legislation and uphold laws that invade our privacy, I’d say that “an entirely different definition of privacy” exists within every generation.

  22. Is there any point to MySpace? The people I know who use it seem weirdly obsessed with it.

    Didn’t you just answer your own question? I mean, a lot of people I know would ask, “Is there any point to posting on blogs?” If people do it, there’s a point to doing it to them. For a libertarian site, we often seem confused when people choose differently from us.

    Note that I don’t browse MySpace all that much. I have a page, but I’m not all that impressed with the choices others make about their pages. Why do you make me listen to your crappy music every time I load your page?!? What on earth possessed you to put black text on a very busy pink-and-white background, so that I can’t even read the text?!? Design choices aside, the people on MySpace don’t seem that interesting to me. But they’re interesting to others on MySpace, so more power to them. I’ll just spend my time elsewhere.

  23. Is there any point to MySpace? The people I know who use it seem weirdly obsessed with it.

    As an 18-25 yr old, I must say that I use myspace quite a bit. For me at least, it’s a way to keep in touch with old friends that I otherwise would have completely lost contact with.

  24. Privacy to me is a concept that totally is dependant on personal choice. If somebody voluntarily puts information about themselves in the public realm, it means that they don’t consider that information private. It doesn’t mean that they are putting everything about themselves out there.

    Maybe young people and their elders disagree about what should be private. I think that’s what’s happening now.

  25. There’s something wrong with the kids in my neighborhood
    They always listen to your mom
    They disregard civil disobedience
    They’d rather do what they’re told
    They don’t drink, or fuck, or fight (they don’t start fights)
    They sit home, and read, expand their minds

    There’s something wrong with the kids in my cul de sac
    Their always going to church
    They dress well and they’re speaking articulate
    They show each other respect
    They’re never late, don’t smoke or break rules (they don’t break rules)
    They eat right, they study hard, they like school

    There’s something wrong with the kids in my neighborhood

  26. “As professionals, we can and want to deny our teenage indiscretions. They cannot so easily, but they dont want to either.”

    …for now anyway. Hmm, then again, maybe they won’t in the future either. Maybe the publication of all of of these myriad sexual adventures and social blunders will cause an evolution in the perception toward behavior. Maybe we can become more honest about the behavior of ourselves and others, and indeed, more accepting of same. Maybe MySpace can be the vehicle by which we drop the social pretense of knowing whats going on and finally own up to being human, all too human.

  27. as an 18-25 year old, I readily acknowledge that the “mySpace” and “youTube” culture is being shaped by 12-18 year olds, and not MY age-group.

    The 18-25 year olds seem to be split randomly into the techno-idiot and the techno-savvy. Some of my friends still write snail mail letters! How weird is that?

  28. “Maybe MySpace can be the vehicle by which we drop the social pretense of knowing whats going on and finally own up to being human, all too human.”

    true, or maybe we’ll all develop unbelievably false social personas and interact superficially on the internet, and no one will own up to who they fundamentally are. Individuals will make that choice on their own most likely.

  29. Teenagers on myspace and facebook(now that they accept pre-college age) are greatly increasing the number of potential registered sex offenders
    producing and distributing “child pornography”
    photos of themselves partially nude or in explicit poses.Far worse than the ubiquitous references to drug and under-age alchohol use.
    I’d say these kids are idiots, tying incriminating information to identity.

  30. My name is Dimitri Theodore Flamouropoulos. Would you like to see my social security number? I don’t even have any credit cards for you to scam. Help I am naked I hope the CIA doesn’t chemically torture me into permanent insanity!

  31. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

    That’s true. However, there is a great deal of anonymity in that.

  32. I watched the Will Smith movie Enemy of the State last night. It totally fed my libertoid conspiracy fearing angst.

    There is no hope. We are doomed. But, I’ll have to learn to live with it. It’s that or allow myself to be driven totally batshit crazy insane.

    (I know, I know. For me, it’s not a long trip.”
    ;~P

  33. I think that it’s important to recognize that privacy is not a word with a single, immutable definition. I have a MySpace page. On it, you can find some basic information about me-I’m a reporter and a volunteer firefighter, and things like that. It may even mention that I’m engaged. None of those things are in any way secret. My job requires me to speak to any number of people, and identify myself as a reporter. If I show up at your house in bunker gear, you’re certainly going to know that I’m a volunteer firefighter. The curious can find my name on a public roster of the department and in the records of various certifying agencies. Those who are curious about my relationship status can look at my ring finger.
    But that information is not the whole of who I am. It doesn’t tell anyone what I like to do after work (other than ride in big red trucks), what books are on my shelves, what I think about any given issue, or what I like to do in bed. I may reveal any of those things, depending on whom I am speaking with. I may also keep them to myself. My point is this-all of us live in the public sphere part of the time, and most of us maintain a part of ourselves outside of the public sphere. That which we choose to hold back is private. And, of course, what is held back varies from person to person. The important thing is that individuals make that choice for themselves.

  34. Myspace is just email with pictures. I want to know how many 50 year-old men claiming to be 18 year-old jocks troll for 38 year-old hookers claiming to be pre-teen orgy fluffers.

  35. Lamar- Now that is private information.

  36. I’m a musician who has a mySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/councilofone

    That said, I think it’s a piece of crap service that works properly about a third of the time. My wife, however, has developed an active social group on mySpace, and both of us are on the not-so-sunny side of 30.

    I have a reflexive desire for privacy (which is partly why I’m a libertarian), but the reality is that most of the info out there about me is trivial stuff. I agree with the point that employers who base their hiring decisions on a Google search are going to have a hard time getting the best applicants in a few years. The growing flood of trivial personal information will create a sort of ‘virtual’ privacy.

  37. NoStar,

    If you freaked out over Emeny of the State, for zod’s sake do not watch The Conversation.

    (Actually, do watch it cos it’s a great movie, but it will freak you out.)

  38. I forgot that I wasn’t channeling Bobby Brown anymore. Hey, it’s my perrogative.

    Hackman is really good and John Cazale is amazing. Plus it’s funny to see a super young Harrison Ford and Terri Garr and the chick who played Shirley.

  39. Is there more sanity in keeping a vast amount of ourselves private and living in the fear of being discovered, or more sanity ( AND liberty) in divulging as much as we can to each other to find the commonalities between us that make us human? Will older generations, misnomered “sane” by some here, always keep sway on our lives with political and social leverage by pointing their bony, opinionated, soulless, “moral” fingers at anyone who doesn’t toe the line? Isn’t this one of the underlying fundamental aspects of the Drug War? Screw that. I’ll tell the truth and not hide anything, so that later when you think you’re gonna “tell on me”, you will have NO POWER. Kids today KNOW that the old socially tyrranical fundamentalist moral system is defunct and in it’s last throes, they will change it their own way with their own power.

  40. I am reminded of Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Foules”: http://www.theflaneur.co.uk/lesfoules.html

  41. Fred- Why bring lying into it? One doesn’t need to lie to maintain a sphere of personal privacy. One need only respond to intrusive questions with, “That’s none of your damned business.”

    Look, a person who lives entirely in the public sphere, and who maintains no zone of privacy is making himself wholly available to the herd. That may be fine for some, but it gives me the creeps.

  42. de stijl, it’s Cindy Williams. “He’d kill us of he had the chance”.

  43. Oops, “if” not “of”.

  44. Most of the technologies that are being touted as the End of Privacy could easily, instead, be the opposite.

    With strong encryption and digital cash, all of your electronic communications and all of your economic transactions are private once again.

    Now, the surveillance cameras are a different story. Personally, I like the British solution to them – apply petrol, strike match.

  45. I think the aspect of this debate that is important to libertarians is having the option to keep information private, not whether it is wise to do so. That’s a purely personal decision.

    If I choose to publish the details of my sex life, that’s my choice and I have to accept the possible social consequences that go along with that. And that includes possible employment repercussions–in a libertarian world, employers have the option not to hire me if they don’t like what they see on a Google search.

    The real issue is the involuntary publication of your personal data.

  46. As an 18-25-year-old, I don’t use myspace. It’s full of crappy musicians trying to build a fanbase, and most of the women are either skanks, teenage skanks, or 40-year-old men trolling for the above.

    You left out the undercover cops trolling for your last category.

    Is there any point to MySpace?

    Our nerd children are making more peaceful contacts with people from other countries than the U.S. Department of State.

    One of the evergreen revaltions of the media is that “people don’t know their neighbors any more.” False. But their neighbors may not be the people who physically live on the same street.

  47. Is there any point to MySpace?

    I can think of one: it gives third-rate musicians like myself something to satirize in a fifth-rate video at that other bastion of narcissism, YouTube.

  48. David Brin, thou art vindicated!

  49. Kids today KNOW that the old socially tyrranical fundamentalist moral system is defunct and in it’s last throes, they will change it their own way with their own power.

    Yeah Fred, right. They’ll get old, get a mortgage or have a kid, and be incrementally less socially conservative than their parents. And then financial management companies will court their retirement dollars with ads about “redefining retirement” (just replace the VW and surfboard with nostalgic pics of MySpace and SlipKnot concerts). Jesus, I hate those fucking Baby boomers. I’ll probably learn to hate your self important generation just as much. You don’t need to lie about anything. There are a million other shallow paste eaters out there publicly gazing their navels. One more tard on the pile.

    Anyway, kids eventually learn to self sensor. A 5 year old doesn’t know it’s trouble to call fat folks fat, and a 18 year old kid doesn’t know it’s trouble to post pictures of himself piss drunk in a bathtub on the net. They learn.

  50. I have obviously been mistaken for someone much younger than my years. Quite funny, but most tragic. Picking on kids for TRYING to change their world really exposes the fears and self-loathing that is endemic in the older generations. You threw away your chance and sold-out, and ridicule those who haven’t ( be it “yet”, or not). Typical behaviour…the prisoner looks out the tiny window of his cell and derides the people seen outside the gates, in the hope of instilling some sense of esteem. But guess what? The youth of today still carry the light inside them, while yours has been traded away for the house in the cul-de-sac and the forlornment of dreams left by the wayside. It’s all about liberty, claiming you have it when you don’t IS the big lie.

  51. You threw away your chance and sold-out …

    Jesus, I’ve been waiting for my chance to ‘sell-out’. I had years upon years of drugs, casual relations, and all that crap that’s fun when you’re a kid. Now I’m dreaming about that 52″ plasma screen and the playstation 3 I’m going to buy when I draw the big paycheck after I start my first real job this summer. I think I’m a bit old to be playing that game you’re romanticizing. And good lord, who even says “sold-out”? Like I said, another tard on the pile.

  52. “Maybe MySpace can be the vehicle by which we drop the social pretense of knowing whats going on and finally own up to being human, all too human.”

    That’s kind of what burning man is about.

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