everywhere i turn today i am hearing about google’s new privacy policies. the buzz, as i understand it, is about the fact that each google product/platform will no longer carry it’s own set of privacy agreements but that assent to one or two privacy policies will carry forward to other google platforms. this basically means that many of us will give passive assent to google to catalogue, aggregate, and integrate our many clicks and views across google products. in doing so they will be able to understand our preferences and interests with much greater depth and accuracy.
why is this a boon for google?
because they can assure their clients (the businesses who advertise or otherwise pay to place content with them) that their products and services will be put before us with much greater specificity.
have you noticed how, over time, the ads that pop up when you do a google search are increasingly ones that somehow relate to your interests? has it occurred to you that the videos that appear when you access youtube seem to be ones you would be inclined to watch? as google now integrates your plus ones, views on youtube, forwarded articles, and topics of search, it will be able to populate the content and ads of future searches with things it knows (quite literally) you will be interested in.
this is not necessarily a bad thing. to me, however, it is impossible to see it as a benign thing.
we, in the west, live in a culture of narcissism. it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking our way is the only way. it’s also easy to stay locked inside our own interests and thoughts, rarely branching out to stretch or grow. our internet use reflects where we fall on the continuum of health in the realm of how we relate to our own development within the context of a global community.
some people use the unending scope of the internet to seek out diverse information, create heterogenous communities of contact, and experience new-to-them thoughts/ideas/places/things. not everyone, however, does this. of special attention here are teens. cultural and anthropological research shows that adolescents are, by far, the most avid populators of the internet. these digital natives are now thought to spend 8.5-9 hours a day (on average) plugged in. they are also moving through a developmental continuum that predisposes them to feel like they are (or should be) the center of the universe, that everyone in the world does (or should) think like them, and that the consequences of their actions reach about as far as their noses. their brains are busily wiring circuitry for responsibility, self control, and emotional regulation. they haven’t mastered those things yet. their frontal lobes are in process as are their concepts of self and other, relationship, and moral and cognitive agency. they need exposure to diverse stimuli cognitively and experientially. they need to be stretched outside of their self created bubbles of comfort. they need to learn to become active with information. they need the important teachers and caretakers in their lives to function as their frontal lobes and developmental guides, providing them with exposure to variety and the optimal tension and integration that can come from being stretched.
when those important teachers and caretakers are crowded out by increasing amounts of time on an internet that caters directly to their needs, interests, and preferences it seems to me that narcissism, rather than health, is bread.
educators, parents, and others bemoan the decrease in empathy, critical thinking skills, and resilience that they observe in generation y. how can this not be contributed to by a bulk of time being spent with a “bff” (computer/smart phone) who knows all about you, presents you with what you will love, and does so 24 hours a day? there is no need for waiting, no potential conflict to work through, little engagement of the mind required, and it’s all available at any time. this does nothing to encourage the development of skills that will lead to life satisfaction. skills such as the ability to delay gratification, the fine art of negotiation and compromise, the difficult task of considering (respectfully, over time, in meaningful ways) what truly matters to another and valuing that in them. it doesn’t challenge assumptions or encourage deep processing.
but this is not just an issue for adolescents. it is an issue for the narcissistic tendency in all of us.
technology that anticipates our needs and readily serves us up our preferences is here to stay. it’s fun and it’s useful. it is also, however, impactful in ways that we may not think or want to consider.
so...as our digital experiences become easier for us, as our time online offers increasingly specific forms of material catering to our preferences without our even seeking it out...may we all work to balance this with intentional efforts to broaden our experiences. may we get outside of our preferences. may we diversify our clicks and our real life encounters with people, thoughts, and ideas. may we all challenge our own individual tendency toward narcissism, remembering that there is much to be gained by being outside of our comfort zones.