Private eyes

There’s a new Internet meme that asks “How Millennial Are You?” The quiz, sponsored by the Pew Research Center, asks your opinions and habits on things as varied as telephone landlines, video games, tattoos, newspapers and texting habits.

The purpose: To find out if you are a part of—or at least relate to—the Millennial generation, the successor to Gen X that’s comprised of teens and 20-somethings born between 1980 and the early 2000s.

I’ve taken the quiz three times and, depending on how I’ve spent the day, scored anywhere between 55 percent and 75 percent. All that really means is that at any given moment I’m either about to blow out my text-message plan or not thinking enough about my career.

It’s a fun, harmless quiz, but it doesn’t begin to get at the heart of the Pew’s exhaustive companion study, “Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next.”

The study offers many interesting insights. Some aren’t surprising: Millennials live a green lifestyle, are technology-oriented and, increasingly, shun traditional mediums such as print journalism and broadcast television.


Other conclusions, however, are a bit more startling: Millennials are increasingly conservative, not particularly interested in traditional career paths and are completely glued to the Internet—social networking sites in particular.

Right, news flash: Kids today, they like the Internets. But other similar studies show that, coupled with this nearly 24-seven connectivity, comes an increasingly detached view about privacy issues in a way that suggests that Millennials favor fun and convenience over security and confidentiality.

And in the wake of recent hooplas regarding Facebook’s changes to privacy settings and Google Buzz’s privacy blunders, it’s very telling, alarming even.

Then again, maybe it’s just Gen Xers who freak out when the entire world knows what you’re Googling?

Indeed, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg believes the Age of Privacy is quickly being replaced by a desire for bigger, better and faster tech gadgets and services.

“People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds but more openly and with more people,” Zuckerberg explained at a recent San Francisco technology conference.

“That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”

A Mashable post takes the notion a step further, declaring privacy the most important “currency” of our online existence.

“A shift in privacy expectation is occurring as social networks become more open to third-party developers …. [and] more people are willing to open up their profiles and forgo some of their privacy in exchange for services.”

In other words, every time you play FarmVille, a marketing angel gets its wings.

It happens, too, every time you enable geotagging by announcing your locale to the rest of the world via Foursquare or Loopt. It’s one thing to tell everyone you’re at Temple Fine Coffee and Tea, quite another to broadcast your home address. Or, as the founders of the site Please Rob Me point out, it’s downright stupid to let everyone else know you’re on vacation and that your house (you know, the one with the address you previously posted) now stands empty, ready for pillaging.

In the olden days, your personal information used to command a high price. Now in exchange for all those techno bells and whistles and the promise of constant connectivity, you’re willing to give it away for free.

But if privacy really is a new form of legal tender, then it’s time for Millennials (for everyone, really) to consider the exchange rate, to demand more in return for those targeted ads, for that seemingly harmless “location awareness,” for that increased loss of personal security. They want your digital soul, so make them pay the price.

Aren’t you worth it?