Our Instincts For Privacy

Ian Leslie considers how they interact with the online world:

[James Grimmelmann, director of the intellectual property programme at the University of Maryland,] thinks the suggestion that we are voluntarily waving goodbye to privacy is nonsense: ‘The way we think about privacy might change, but the instinct for it runs deep.’ He points out that today’s teenagers retain as fierce a sense of their own private space as previous generations. But it’s much easier to shut the bedroom door than it is to prevent the spread of your texts or photos through an online network. The need for privacy remains, but the means to meet it — our privacy instincts — are no longer fit for purpose.

Over time, we will probably get smarter about online sharing. But right now, we’re pretty stupid about it. Perhaps this is because, at some primal level, we don’t really believe in the internet. Humans evolved their instinct for privacy in a world where words and acts disappeared the moment they were spoken or made. Our brains are barely getting used to the idea that our thoughts or actions can be written down or photographed, let alone take on a free-floating, indestructible life of their own. Until we catch up, we’ll continue to overshare.