The Lamentation of Age…

14 06 2008

Whilst returning to the countryside once again, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on a group of what I presumed to be colleagues grumbling about the internet (actually I could help it, but the conversation was interesting). One of the group, who appeared to be the nosy, talkative, office busybody observed that they were to be the last, and I quote, “private generation” due to social networking sites, which, according to another member of the group, seem to do more harm than good.

The idea of a “private” and a “public” generation was one which interested me, hence I kept listening to the conversation, until I had to get off the train. Essentially, the argument ran, due to the advent of the internet, the ease with which information can be obtained about someone has grown. Social networking sites such as Facebook or Myspace, only serve to make this even easier, with everything from age, to phone number to interests listed in various forms. This ease, it was generally thought, was a bad thing.

And to some extent I agree. But only to some extent. I accept that it can be a bad thing, but, and here’s the important bit, the person responsible for their page can put as much or as little information as he or she wants. If you do not want everyone knowing that you absolutely love the Arctic Monkeys, don’t put it down. It’s simple isn’t it. The premise of the group on the train was that you simply have to put as much information down as possible, and have to make it easy for people to find out about you. This creates what the busybody termed the “public generation”. Where everything about you is available to the public to read and devour at will. The private generation was the older one (and I will generalise here by suggesting everyone over about 30) who do not live their lives through the internet or networking sites.

This whole conversation was though brought home when listening to the radio in the car. Radio 1’s Newsbeat reported that one of the adverts on Facebook was “sinister” and targeted young women, convincing them that they need to lose weight, when, in reality they are perfectly healthy. The written report is here. Young people (women especially, although not always) do seem overly sensitive to their weight, and adverts like this can have a negative effect on people who, due to the effects of puberty, exams, relationships and the media, are especially vulnerable.

Personalised adverts are not uncommon. Facebook has been using them for a while. I, for example, get adverts about how to manage my debt, telling me where to buy music tickets, and asking me whether I want to become a cricket writer. They are set to become more common, as BT and another internet company (I cannot remember the name though) are working on new technology to create specific adverts based upon your searched terms. Which I have no problem with, as long as they are responsible, and do not, like the Facebook advert, send out the wrong messages to the wrong people.

Are we the first “public” generation then? The answer is probably a yes. The real question is whether this is a bad thing. I would argue not. As long as there is a sense of intelligence to what is available, and how easily accessible this is.

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