My sister Jan — student of history, Navy vet and a Wise One — sent me an email a couple days ago that I thought would make a good guest post. She said yes to that suggestion and here it is…
Is the new born-in-connectivity generation going to re-define privacy? They may try — from the comfort of their parents’ homes or the cocoon of youth — but first they have to understand what constitutes privacy. They are going to learn, albeit the hard way, that what you make available is no longer private and therefore you cannot expect it to be protected by the norms of privacy. The norms of privacy, however, aren’t universally understood.
America is one of the few — perhaps the only if we’re talking large scale — modern countries that was created though one people’s individual exploration and individual settlement into an ever-moving frontier. After initial sputtering wealth-seeking attempts, the true settlement along the coast line of north America was primarily under private sponsorship rather than military incursion. It was “relatively” benign colonization in that the goal was not to annihilate, enslave or ‘save’ the indigenous people through religious conversion or education. The arriving colonists primarily sought freedom to work and worship and the opportunity to better their lives and raise their social standing. The principal asset needed to obtain those goals was land, which was seen as limitless and free for the taking provided the native population withdrew beyond the frontier and one had the strength and determination to tame the land as needed.
The leading edge of this frontier movement started with those who built the original settlements in the early 17th century and continued to move out in the lower 48 until the mid-20th century and in very remote areas continues still. The “frontier” society was composed of people who took the initiative and individually ventured into new areas where there was little law, oversight or judgement. Although they brought morals and manners of every social strata, they also had to rely on each other and build some form of community where ever they settled in order to survive and thrive. But in the frontier, in the place of established laws, there were protocols — unwritten codes of correct conduct — born of common consent and enforced by common acceptance that enabled the community to function, grow and improve. These protocols became the societal norm for most of the expansion into the US as it is today.
In the rest of the world connected by the major trade routes during this same period, societies grew and countries were formed primarily from the top down by gathering like together, or by force, and they were ruled through laws and protocols that came into being to enable financial investors, religions or conquerors to subjugate and /or extort populations.
But America came into existence and continued to expand as one contiguous country because the key unifying principle was individual liberty, and our legal and societal norms developed to support that principle. This is what made America so singular as a nation in it’s early days. This is at the heart of what some call exceptionalism today. Exceptional may be an egotistical term for it — as Putin just called it and as the push-backers deny — if one interprets exceptional as being “above average,” or “extraordinary” or any other superlative. But America is exceptional if one uses the term in the context of “deviation from the norm.”
Now overlay this frontier concept onto the development of the Internet and our other networking systems. How were they developed? Was it by governments pushing out into or conquering a new frontier with laws and protocols in hand or was it by individuals determining the most effective protocols that would help them solidify what they had achieved and enable them to push the frontier borders out further, wider and deeper?
A unique concept of individual privacy was part of America’s frontier society; it wasn’t a place of one’s past but rather a place of new starts, of re-creation, a place where a person made themselves anew, a place where it didn’t matter where or what you came from but rather where you were going and what you would do. Therefore individual privacy became an expectation rather than an exception in the country that frontier society created.
However, that ingrained individualism is not the norm in the rest of the world, a world that technology has rapidly connected. As of today, the concept of individual privacy is not universally understood, now that online, networked and connected technology is at a confluence of cultures. Because of the universality of the usage of connective technology, privacy is going to need a universally accepted definition. And at the heart of privacy is the idea of identity: is it vested in the individual or the collective?
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