University of Louisiana, Lafayette

Silent vs. Screaming: How Millennials are Giving Up Privacy while the Silent Generation Hangs On by Molly Simpson @ University of Louisiana, Lafayette

Pippa Norris’s article Is Western Democracy Backsliding? Diagnosing the Risks analyzes period, life-cycle, and generation effects in public opinion.  It was an intriguing read that sparked interest in my mind and made me reflect on how those effects were present in my own life.  Our animated class discussion centered around the effects of 9/11 on our generation and the effects of failed wars like Vietnam and Iraq on Generation X and Millennials.  After mulling through these concepts applied to my own life, I began to contemplate the relationship between the Silent Generation and hoarding to young Millennials and privacy.  

I witnessed first-hand my grandmother’s aversion to dispensing with unused or forgotten items despite their place in the dustiest corner of the attic so with a little research combined with my own experiences I was able to quickly confirm this hypothesis. The Silent Generation is famous for fitting the phrase, “waste not, want not” due to their attachment to material objects (Mizzou).  What are the phrases and the characteristics that will fit with my own generation? 

I propose that the young Millennials of my own generation will have little regard for privacy due to their familiarity with the internet and the increase in government surveillance in the post-9/11 world, in the same way that the Silent Generation keeps unnecessary items due the poverty they experienced during the Great Depression.  This particular union of a large group of people that have experienced a life defining event in their lives is called a period effect.  Norris defines period effects as effects that “arise from specific shared experiences and defining events that stamp an indelible mark on society, such as the shock of 9/11 on perceptions of terrorist threats in the U.S. and the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on Mediterranean European economies.”  Though one could argue that the abandonment of previous privacy standards is part of the wave of technology that could be considered a generational pattern, the shock of the 9/11 attacks is more pivotal than simply a value or habit picked up by observation.  The true definition of generational patterns is that “values and habits acquired by formative socialization processes at an impressionable early age are maintained as stable orientations throughout people’s lifetimes” (Norris).  After comparing the definitions of generational patterns and period effects, the thesis of this piece more closely aligns with period effects.

Lee Rainie and Maeve Duggan conducted a Pew Research study on privacy-sharing to determine how Americans feel about sharing their personal information in exchange for some service or opportunity.  Out of three specific scenarios that showed differences in age factors, three fourths of these surveys reported participants under fifty to be more accepting of sharing their information than their younger counterparts.  The sentiment that was conveyed throughout the project is best shown in this participant quote: “perhaps we need to teach the younger generations about BIG BROTHER. It seems he has been forgotten” (Rainie & Duggan).  

The three scenarios that the younger generation was found more likely to comply with involved social media, a smart thermostat, and loyalty cards.  The social media scenario included a social media site similar to ClassMates.com that would reconnect users to the people they graduated high school with for the purpose of coordinating information for a class reunion. As simple as this idea sounds, the findings showed those participants over fifty to be quite cynical.  “Some 40% of those under age 50 say this deal would be acceptable, compared with only 24% of those ages 50 and above” (Rainie & Duggan).  Although the only data requested was a valid name and photo in exchange for providing advertising that may interest the potential consumer, the Baby Boomers and Silent Generation participants were not tolerant of this policy (Rainie & Duggan).  

The one scenario that the older generation favored over the younger generation concerned uploading medical records to an online site to give greater access of records to patients. “Those 50 and older are more likely than those who are younger to find the online medical records scenario acceptable (62% to 45%)” (Rainie & Duggan).  A possible reason for this turn of events could be explained by the third component of Pippa Norris’s theory, life-cycle effects. 

She defines these effects as “social and psychological experiences that affect all people as they gain in years, such as through going to school and college… raising a family… and gradually losing some physical mobility in old age.  Life-cycle effects suggest that young people will eventually come to resemble the middle-aged” (Norris).  One could argue that the life-cycle effects are the cause of the older generations being more concerned about medical and billing records and therefore more willing to sacrifice some privacy for the convenience of direct access.  By analyzing information and statistics gathered by researchers like Lee Rainie and Maeve Duggan, scholars like Pippa Norris can make theories to explain human behavior like generation patterns and period and life-cycle effects.  By applying Rainie and Duggan’s research to Norris’s period effects theory, it can be proven that Millennials and the iGen are generally more likely to sacrifice some level of privacy in exchange for convenience where the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation tend to be more conservative with their personal information.

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