July 9, 2010

Millennials will make online sharing in networks a lifelong habit

Will Millennials ‘grow out’ of sharing?

Respondents’ thoughts

Overview of responses

Survey participants were encouraged to: “Explain your choice and share your view about the future of human lifestyles in 2020 – what is likely to stay the same and what will be different? Will the values and practices that characterize today’s younger Internet users change over time?” The following is a small selection of the hundreds of written elaborations, organized according to some of the major themes that emerged in the answers.


A fundamental shift is occurring in human identity and activity in communities. As often is the case, some of it is driven by social change that is facilitated by technological change, especially the new capabilities offered by mobile devices. The benefits to people of sharing information and disclosing details about themselves are becoming more evident. These perceived benefits will change over time as Millennials’ interests change, but the general pattern for disclosure will remain. The historic pattern is for each generation to change the boundaries of privacy and identity.  

“Although I am a privacy scholar, and one who has been taken aback by the careless abandon with which the young, and not so young seem to revel in visibility, I have to assume that it is not merely ignorance that leads so many astray. To the best of their knowledge, the benefits outweigh the costs. And besides, there is this industry that continues, and will continue to make it seem almost normal to be so completely accessible. I can’t imagine the kind of well-publicized catastrophe, or counter-movement that would arise (well, I can, but I wouldn’t want dwell on those scenarios) that would lead to less, rather than more disclosure.” —Oscar Gandy, author, activist, retired emeritus professor of communication, University of Pennsylvania

Publicy will replace privacy. Privacy will appear quaint, like wearing gloves and veils in church.

“Publicy will replace privacy. Privacy will appear quaint, like wearing gloves and veils in church.” —Stowe Boyd, social networks specialist, analyst, activist, blogger, futurist and researcher; president of Microsyntax.org, a non-profit and director of 301Works.org

“I’m no digital native but I have taken on a publicness in my life and received great benefit in return. I wrote about my diagnosis of, surgery for, and recovery from prostate cancer, even to the point of discussing my incontinence and impotence on my blog under the headline, ‘The penis post.’ It doesn’t get much more transparent than that. Yet because of that, I received not only much support but also invaluable information from brave and generous patients who went before me; that was possible only because I revealed myself. I also inspired others to tell their stories and to get screening for the disease. I learned these benefits from the digital culture and I am confident that its so-called natives understand these benefits in their DNA. So I am convinced that publicness will continue. Not only that, but I believe that publicness will be seen as a public good and even necessity. When we share our data about our diseases and treatments, we add to a body of knowledge that can help others in our position. I believe that keeping such information to oneself will one day be seen as antisocial.” —Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do? and an associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism

“As the generation ages, they will inevitably have more to keep them away from the computer (like babies) and will share less instant-to-instant data. But at the same time, they’ll share more photos, they’ll keep at least minimal online diaries, and they’ll use social media, because they are tools in their daily life.” —Charlie Martin, correspondent and science and technology editor, Pajamas Media, technical writer, PointSource Communications, correspondent, Edgelings.com

“Millennials will routinely engage in ubiquitous social networking, having seen that competitive edge it brings them in business and politics. It will be the norm in personal relationships. I wish I could keep up with them.” —Craig Newmark, founder and customer service representative, Craigslist, former software engineer and programmer at companies such as JustInTime Solutions, Bank of America and IBM

“GenY will maintain this spirit of openness and sharing of personal information. Their enthusiasm may wane more from work and family pressures rather than concerns about privacy. Also the focus will likely change from teenage introspection to areas of hobbies, sports, community issues, etc.” —Bill St. Arnaud, chief research officer at CANARIE, Inc. and member of the Internet Society board of trustees

“The human maturation process does not change because of a new technology. Starting before we left the savannahs, the young members of Homo sapiens have over-shared in order to make themselves socially interesting to the group and to potential mates, only to discover the enormous risks involved when shared information reaches malicious individuals or a group at large, at which point they have re-learned the discretion of their parents. Thus sharing on the Internet will continue on its present trajectory: more will be shared by the young than the old, and as people mature they will share more banal and less intimate information.” —Andreas Kluth, California correspondent, The Economist

Sharing is not ‘the new black,’ it is the new normal.

“Sharing is not ‘the new black,’ it is the new normal. There are too many benefits to living with a certain degree of openness for Digital Natives to ‘grow out of it.’ Job opportunities, new personal connections, professional collaboration, learning from others’ experiences, etc., are all very powerful benefits to engaging openly with others online, and this is something that Gen Y understands intuitively. When Gen Y gives birth to their first ‘Gen Z’ child, they will not close themselves off to the world, they will post pictures, videos and anecdotes not only to share their happiness, but to elicit tips from their social grid on how to deal with the challenges of parenthood. The same goes for other aspects of their life: Which car to buy? Which recipe to use? Which book to read or movie to watch?” —Matt Gallivan, senior research analyst, audience insight and research, National Public Radio (US)

“Since it is easier to stay in touch with friends from school, more people will stay in touch. Social networking will play a larger role in education and work, and not be limited to a purely leisure-time activity.” —Hal Varian, chief economist of Google and on the faculty at the University of California-Berkeley

“The willingness of digital natives to share information is ingrained into their makeup. Similar to those who lived through the depression in the US have an ingrained thriftiness. While this may erode over time, they will continue to be open and willing to share. However, their children will shift in the other direction being far more closed in terms of information-sharing.” —Michael Nelson, visiting professor of Internet studies at Georgetown University, formerly a director of technology policy with IBM Corporation and the Federal Communications Commission

“Today’s youths who are sharing far more information more widely than previous generations will no doubt share less than now, but they will not retreat to the low levels of previous generations. In fact, their parents seem to share more than their grandparents did – when I began working, most people discussed politics and other topics in the workplace far less than I see people doing today, in similar environments.” —Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher in human-computer interaction and computer-supported cooperative work at Microsoft Research

“You ain’t seen nothing yet.” —Fred Hapgood, technology author and consultant, moderator of the Nanosystems Interest Group at MIT in the 1990s, writes for Wired, Discover and other tech publications

“The trend to utilize social media to share information will continue to grow through 2020. In fact, these social media are becoming indispensable tools for connecting with other, accomplishing goals, and solving problems. I see the new media becoming more institutionalized and adopted by workplaces, schools, governments, and social organizations as primary channels for communication in the future.” ––Gary Kreps, professor and chair of the department of communication, George Mason University

“While we are at a time of adolescent performance of self regardless of our chronological ages, I expect that the benefits of disclosure will continue to outweigh the negative sides.” —Paul Jones, conference co-chair, WWW2010, clinical associate professor, School of Information and Library Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, director, ibiblio

“This behaviour is now so widespread it has become a way of life. I don’t see it changing in the future.” —Luc Faubert, president of dDocs Information, Inc., consultant in IT governance and change management

“The so-called digital natives have confused views about information sharing. But by and large, they take for granted very broad forms of personal communication.  That comfort level will not go away, even as they get older.” —Kevin Werbach, founder of Supernova and assistant professor at the Wharton School of Business, former counsel for new technology policy at the FCC

“The habits of our formative years tend to stay in place, even though we may view them in a more mature fashion. So, although there may be a reduction in the trivia currently shared, the principle of sharing will remain ingrained. It will also be better managed, through improved applications.” —Adrian Schofield, manager, applied research unit, Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, president, Computer Society South Africa

“Today’s digital natives have developed habits of mind and behavior that will be very resistant to change. Nevertheless, change there will be, from two sides: life-cycle factors and evolving attitudes to privacy. As Millennials begin to deal with kids and other adult responsibilities, I see them trading in some of their real-time communication (texting, IM, etc) for more store-and-forward options. Instead of spending a lot less time-sharing information, they’ll share it differently. A more subtle life-cycle factor concerns a deep qualitative difference between today’s 20-somethings and their parents’ generation. I imagine a great many Millennials are using social software to expedite the process of ‘finding themselves’ (not by conscious planning of course). While this pursuit isn’t new, digital media offer powerful ways to experiment with socially constructed identities we weren’t even dreaming of in the 60s. It seems plausible that becoming an ‘adult’ will take away some of the playful experimentation behind all that Millennial information-sharing. Then there’s privacy. The demise of online privacy is already well underway. Financial scams, lousy software, human error and prejudicial EULAs are here to stay. What I see changing is a greater awareness among mainstream onliners of just how extensive the risks are to our privacy, money and identities. I’m constantly amazed at the extent to which otherwise sane, intelligent people are dismissive of precautions like strong passwords. By 2020, lots more onliners will have learned about the downside of unrestricted information-sharing. Being an adult means having more to protect and more to lose. But this predictable change will be reinforced by a long, slow learning curve for millions of onliners who have very little understanding of what goes on in cyberspace.” —David Ellis, director of communication studies at York University, Toronto, and author of the first Canadian book on the roots of the Internet

“If we assume the behaviour changes we see in our societies concerning how people wish to consume and create content continue, as well as how the means with which they consume and create continue to evolve, then it seems to me almost inevitable that Gen Y will continue to embrace those means, reflecting their natures and behaviours we see now. There will also be pressure from the generation behind them, so I’m sure we’ll see more ‘ambient broadcasting’ and connectivity between people especially with mobile devices, thus driving even more such communication as it can take place anywhere, any time.” —Neville Hobson, head of social media in Europe for WCG Group and principal of NevilleHobson.com


It is true that Millennials have what might be considered by some in today’s society to be liberal views about sharing their information, but the privacy paradigm is evolving and people may be more forgiving of others’ indiscretions in the future.

“Most certainly, I’m shocked at how much people share online, and their future employers and potential significant others will be as well, I suspect.” —Chris DiBona, open source and public sector engineering manager at Google

“The e-world will become more open and less private, but the excess of today’s college students will diminish with age and responsibility. However, as they age, they will be much more open than their parents have been.” Don McLagan, member of the board of directors for the Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange, consultant, retired chief executive officer of Compete, Inc.

“By 2020 it will become increasingly clear that while privacy is the refuge of criminals and politicians, protection of personal data does not increase safety, but merely propagates a false sense of security. Sharing will be widely seen as a defense against the sort of world that existed in the past, where only the rich and multinationals had access to personal data on a widespread scale, and used it exclusively to serve their own interests through marketing media campaigns, cherry-picking of insurance (especially driving and health insurance) clients, employment and wage offers, and more. As access to personal data becomes more widespread (mostly, at first, through the actions of hackers, but also though sharing on personal sites and social networks) it will become clear that security cannot depend on secrecy, but rather, that laws will need to be in force to prevent the misuse of data. Campaigns will propose that the denial (or overcharging) of insurance on the basis of pre-existing illnesses or genetic predisposition, for example, will be outlawed, or that hiring or firing practices based on a person’s personal lifestyle will be prohibited. It will be clear by 2020 that everybody has, if you will, skeletons (or nude pics or infidelities) in the closet, and it will be seen as absurd to make morality judgments based on these. In an ideal world, denying a person life or livelihood on the basis of these will be seen as a form of extortion, and condemned by society at large.” —Stephen Downes, senior research officer, National Research Council of Canada, and specialist in online learning, new media, pedagogy and philosophy

“The younger people will continue their public disclosure of what older people think of private behavior. In many ways this represents a shift to an acceptance of universal human failings – without the judgment of older people. They watch a Tiger Woods embarrassment and are amused, not shocked. They are just less hypocritical and more accepting of the reality of human behavior. Thus they enjoy reading about each others’ lives, celebrity lives, and see very little damage when someone makes a ‘human’ mistake.” —Ed Lyell, professor at Adams State College, consultant for using telecommunications to improve school effectiveness through the creation of 21st century learning communities

“The hysteria that currently surrounds information-sharing online will fade when such disclosure becomes commonplace. The moral forces in our societies will – indeed, have to – become more forgiving of youthful transgressions. After all, human behavior hasn’t changed. The thing that’s changed is the ability to record it and share it with potential millions. A great majority of us have had a wild spring break trip as a teenager. Future employers will recognize that such behavior is not an indication of adult professionalism in the workplace.” —Janelle Ward, assistant professor, Department of Media and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam

“My guess is that people will continue to share as much as they do now. After all, once they’ve put so much about themselves up on their sites, what good would it do to stop? In for a penny; in for a pound. Social norms will evolve to accept more candor. After all, Ronald Reagan got elected president despite having gone through a divorce, and Bill Clinton got elected despite having smoked marijuana. Society’s expectations evolve.” Andy Oram, editor and blogger, O’Reilly Media

Epiphany

“Unless Generation Y has a collective privacy-related epiphany, they will continue to happily trade it for convenience.” ––Gervase Markham, a programmer for the Mozilla Foundation since 1999, based in the UK; won a Google/O’Reilly Open Source Award as the “best community activist” in 2006

“In this case it will depend on still younger generations and their use of new technologies that I think are likely to make today’s ‘digital natives’ seem, well, backwards. Just as today’s parents seem like dinosaurs to their kids, so today’s kids will seem to their kids when it comes to technology. In other words, every generation of youth will freak out the corresponding generation of adults (or so I hope).” —Steve Jones, professor of communication and associate dean of liberal arts and sciences and co-founder of the Association of Internet Researchers, University of Illinois-Chicago

“The social media habits of digital natives are likely set for life, with the exception of some fundamental shift in technology or law that would require them to change those habits. We should not be surprised if the next generation thereafter exhibits different patterns of behavior, perhaps being more selective in how they construct their circle of online contacts. ‘Mom, I can’t believe you posted pictures of yourself doing a keg stand for just anyone to see!’” —Nathaniel James, now with Mozilla Foundation, formerly executive director for OneWebDay

“Clearer lines between appropriate public and private information will emerge as more people are burned legally, professionally, and socially by what they make available online, and by what remains available even though they grow up and move on.” —Tom Wolzien, founder and chairman of Wolzien LLC Media & Communications Strategy and formerly senior analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

“My experience is that the stages of life that follow the young, single years tend to bring a good deal more focus when marriage, career and family become part of the daily routine. I would expect that those responsibilities will pull in time and attention as they have for past generations. However, there is probably no going back on the more open social environment of the Internet that has evolved over the past decade. What ‘social interactions’ is has been redefined with widespread normative behavior. Staying in touch with others by nonstop cell phone and messaging is different than it was decades ago. Actually ‘openness’ has been evolving all during my lifetime. The message of ‘drugs, sex, and rock-‘n-roll’ changed openness for baby-boomers. Things like homosexuality, pre-marital sex, non-married pregnancy, even having cancer, have greatly altered our sense of what has to be kept private. Our sense of what’s shameful has changed steadily since the ’60s. Gen Y will take different standards into the workplace and relationships and the norms will continue to drift.” —David Collin, retired, formerly director of the American Cancer Society

“Digital data preservation makes it essentially impossible to effectively re-write history. The baby-boomers’ admissions of drug use paved the way for this generation’s online admissions of just about everything, and having gotten it out there, it’s never coming back. As with the baby-boomers, this will permanently shift the attitudes of this generation about what’s acceptable. Of course, their own behavior, which they can’t change retroactively, will be the new yardstick.” —Bill Woodcock, research director, Packet Clearing House, vice president with Netsurfer Publishing, co-founder and technical advisor, Nepal Internet Exchange and Uganda Internet Exchange

“Did the social activists of the ’60s grow up? Yes, and then emerged as today’s politicians. Sure, the Gen Y kids are getting older, and their life course events will change – having their own children will be an eye opener for the dangers of sharing information online. But they will have grown up sharing information, so what they retrench to may be quite different from where older generations started. But, yes, they will change their habits. They will become more conservative as they become part of conservative culture and organizations. Workplaces will be more dominant in setting trends than college campuses.” —Caroline Haythornthwaite, professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Certainly today’s youth will change as they grow older and take on new responsibilities, but they will not abandon their habits of being in constant contact with friends and family members. Americans born in the 1960s adapted throughout their lives as portable music devices changed from transistor radios to Walkmen to iPods; we were a generation that always carried music with us. Americans born in the 1980s will always have personal devices for connecting to people, and they will continue using these devices throughout their lives.” —Mindy McAdams, Knight Chair in journalism, University of Florida, author of Flash Journalism:  How to Create Multimedia News Packages, journalist

“Privacy isn’t Platonic, it’s contextual and variable. Gen Y has permanent calluses where the boomers have privacy sensibilities. Remember that Brandeis called for a right to privacy because he was shocked that newspapers could publish his picture without his permission. Flickr users (3 billion photos and counting) may someday embrace Brandeis, but never his definition of privacy.” —Stewart Baker, general counsel to the US Internet Service Provider Association, former general counsel for the US National Security Agency


This is not so much a generational story as a story about the impact of technology on overall human behavior. It relates to deep human desires to be social and to be in control of identity. New technologies will continue to make this much easier to do. 

“The mistake made in assigning to a particular age group a propensity for technology and media usage is the assumption that its the cohort of people in time, rather than the lifestyle of those people which matters. Already, we can see that single people without children are much more likely to connect online, publish and broadcast than those who don’t. It just so happens that people in their teens to 30s now are most likely to be in that group. When those people’s life narrative changes, their life broadcast will change.” —Matthew Allen, director of Internet Studies at the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts, Curtin University of Technology, and critic of social uses and cultural meanings of the Internet

“Social networking will be embedded in those parts of everyday life that are mediated by (conducted via) information technology. We’ll be doing it – Gen Y and everyone else – whether we understand it or not.” Seth Grimes, founder of the data-systems architecture and design company Alta Plana Corporation and a columnist for Intelligent Enterprise magazine

“Widespread information sharing is not a generational issue. It’s a technological one. Our means for controlling access to data, or its use – or even for asserting our ‘ownership’ of it – are very primitive. (Logins and passwords alone are clunky as hell, extremely annoying, and will be seen a decade hence as a form of friction we were glad to eliminate.) It’s still early. The Net and the Web as we know them have only been around for about 15 years. Right now we’re still in the early stages of the Net’s Cambrian explosion. By that metaphor Google is a trilobyte. We have much left to work out. For example, take ‘terms of use.’ Sellers have them. Users do not – at least not ones that they control. Wouldn’t it be good if you could tell Facebook or Twitter (or any other company using your data) that these are the terms on which they will do business with you, that these are the ways you will share data with them, that these are the ways this data can be used, and that this is what will happen if they break faith with you? Trust me: user-controlled terms of use are coming. (Work is going on right now on this very subject at Harvard’s Berkman Center, both at its Law Lab and Project VRM.) Two current technical developments, ‘self-tracking’ and ‘personal informatics,’ are examples of ways that power is shifting from organizations to individuals – for the simple reason that individuals are the best points of integration for their own data, and the best points of origination for what gets done with that data. Digital natives will eventually become fully empowered by themselves, not by the organizations to which they belong, or the services they use. When that happens, they’ll probably be more careful and responsible than earlier generations, for the simpler reason that they will have the tools.” —Doc Searls, fellow, Berkman Center, Harvard, fellow at Center for Information Technology and Society, University of California-Santa Barbara; co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto

“There are already digital natives who predate Generation Y – early adopters of the Internet and its predecessor networks. I have seen little waning of enthusiasm for online engagement amongst these Internet pioneers, and can imagine no more reason why younger digital natives should lose enthusiasm for the online medium.” —Jeremy Malcolm, project coordinator, Consumers International, and co-director of the Internet Governance Caucus

“The sharing impulse is a permanent shift, not a cohort effect or an age effect. It is enabled by technology (incredibly cheap communications and storage) but fueled by people taking back the right to create and share things (not that they explicitly knew that right was missing). Our notions of privacy will land elsewhere than they were 10 years ago.” —Jerry Michalski, founder, Relationship Economy eXpedition, exploring “the emerging order for transformation agents,” founder and president of Sociate

“I wouldn’t class digital natives as Generation Y. In my experience there are a lot of older people today who are digital natives as well. I think that this is more about personal disposition than age. People who have chosen that way, will tend to keep it up, although the form of the disclosure will likely change a lot, and in some cases, become less open to the public. What I mean is that someone might start Twittering a lot, then start a blog and Twitter less, then join an online gaming site and Twitter rarely, and blog less. After that perhaps a genealogy Web forum, and then a new mothers Web forum and after that some kind of kids club site.” —Michael Dillon, network consultant at BT and a career professional in IP networking since 1992, member of BT’s IP Number Policy Advisory Forum

“The conversations that occur through social media are the social equivalent of bat sonar. It’s a human quality to transmit messages and sense the social responses, particularity the emotional responses. That’s how social networks (i.e. society) are maintained. We won’t have transcended humanity by 2020.” —Garth Graham, board member of Telecommunities Canada, promoting local community network initiatives

“Generation X is the one to watch, as they are already passing through these life transitions with all of their network-enhanced lifestyles intact. They are bringing these tools to bear on parenthood, managing health and illness, and managing finances. They are already creating the tools, sites and companies Gen Y and others will use as models.” —Anthony Townsend, director of technology development and research director at The Institute for the Future

“I am 52 years old and I have taken to social networking like a duck to water. I know a great many elderly people who are venturing enthusiastically into cyberspace for the first time because of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so forth. I have no doubt that, so long as some form of the Internet exists, the vast majority of people will continue to make use of it for social purposes for the foreseeable future. Gen Y’s usage patterns may evolve over time, but they won’t diminish significantly over the long term.” —Robert G. Ferrell, information systems security professional, US government, former systems security specialist, National Business Center, US Department of the Interior


The notion of privacy was powerful in the industrial era during the rise of “mass society.” We live in a time in which the need for privacy and the advantages of privacy have given way to the needs of “networked society,” and advantages are found for all in sharing details in social media. When this generation comes to power in government and corporate settings social norms will be more formally adjusted.

“The ideas of privacy that grew up with mass society will continue to give way to new ideas of privacy appropriate to network society. Disclosure is not as influenced by youth as it is by changes to the media environment.” —Alex Halavais, professor and social informatics researcher, Quinnipiac University; explores the ways in which social computing influences society, author of Search Engine Society

“They will not have grown out of being ambient broadcasters, because being ambient broadcasters will have become the norm when they are totally in charge.” —Jeff Branzburg, consultant with Teaching Matters, Inc.

“This way of being is completely ingrained in their DNA now. The challenge will be for older generations to accept that expectations on sharing have changed, and to modify behavior and employment norms to take this into account.” Chris Jacobs, chief operating officer, Solutions for Progress, Inc.

“The professional and social benefits of information sharing will continue to grow, and Generation Y will continue to play an active role in that sharing. Part of the additional value that will be added to this practice will be the continued adoption of information sharing by Gen Y’s elders – thereby improving the social networks by adding more participants, and simultaneously lessening the noteworthiness of participating. Simply put, this won’t even be a question in 2020. Every generation will participate in social networking and reaping the benefits of digital communities, and no one will remember why we thought it was strange in 2010.” —Steve Rozillis, senior digital marketing manager for a major US insurance company

“While I agree that those who are young today will outgrow their penchant for sharing, there will always be a new class of young people who are exploring the world and in so doing will share without concern for future consequences. We need to adapt our privacy and data gathering to accommodate this. We ought to require search engines, such as Google, to purge their dossiers on people when those people hit their 25th birthday.” —Karl Auerbach, chief technical officer at InterWorking Labs, Inc.

“Probably these generations will seem to be ‘growing out’ of much of their digital media use and technology use. However, their use will probably very similar. The reason for this perception to occur is that ‘newer’ generations will use more technology in comparison to these – by then – older counterparts.” Homero Gil de Zuniga, Internet researcher and professor at the University of Texas-Austin

“People will adjust to and adapt new technologies over time. They learn how to use them and they get over rough spots. Problems with new technologies (remember all of the worries about the need to provide blocking for caller ID) often dissipate as experience grows with technologies. I am confident many of today’s concerns about privacy online will take care of themselves – but new ones will emerge to take their place almost certainly.” ––Link Hoewing, assistant vice president for Internet and technology issues, Verizon

“The real impact will come when the majority of the leadership in all democratically oriented societies are ‘digital natives’ as the whole decision process in these societies will change greatly. Right now most of the leadership in companies and legislatures still focuses on face-to-face interactions. We are still going through the educational system and Generation Y is not sufficient yet in mass to have changed much of the societal decision processes. Too many countries are getting away with limiting Internet access, and this is going to be a major roadblock for any worldwide move in this area.” —Murray Turoff, professor of computer and information sciences, New Jersey Institute of Technology and co-author of The Network Nation

“Just as Gen Xers and Baby Boomers have changed the way they share information over time, so will Gen Y. Nothing is going to stand still. Social networking is in its infancy and people are certainly learning some lessons about what happens when you share too much information with the world. Over time people may well grow to place more value on privacy. Social networking services will also change a great deal over the next 10 years. Social networking may become more seamlessly integrated into most media and services. But I also think that by 2020 in developed Western countries the online and offline worlds are going to be increasingly blurred and integrated. That means that social norms from the online world will impact offline social norms, and offline social norms, rules and laws, will move more deeply into cyberspace as well. Everything changes everything.” —Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder, Global Voices, visiting fellow, Center for Information Technology Policy, Princeton University


Millennials will eventually calibrate the level of detail they provide various audiences in their lives. The things they disclose will also change as they get older and their interests change. Nuanced behavior about what information to share and whom to share it with will become more prevalent. Disclosures might become more tame. New social strategies – and a new “netiquette” – will also emerge as this generation figures out the social advantages they can gain by selective disclosure.

“As one ages, life gets more complicated, one learns the consequences of unbridled openness. One becomes more circumspect. I don’t think they’ll necessarily share less. I think they’ll share more carefully, however.” Joshua Freeman, director of interactive services, Columbia University Information Technology

“Everyone is a socialist at 20 and a capitalist at 50. Didn’t George Bernard Shaw say that? Now, everyone is an information socialist at 20 and an information capitalist at 50. We’ll have more information to protect, and we will want to do so to protect ourselves and to gain advantage.” —Barry Wellman, professor of sociology and Netlab Director, University of Toronto

“The answer really lies somewhere between these two statements. People’s habits change as they get older, and that will be true of Generation Y, but nevertheless the increased broadcasting of personal information will remain common at all age levels.” —Nicholas Carr, writer and consultant whose work centers on information technology, author of The Big Switch and Does IT Matter? – his next book is What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

“I am seeing that the college students in my classes are increasingly concerned about Facebook privacy, the amount of time they spend online, and the way they share information. In general, I think Gen Y will continue to be more open about a great deal of information sharing, but I can see that at least some of them are growing concerned.” —Howard Rheingold, visiting lecturer, Stanford University, lecturer, University of California-Berkeley, author of many books about technology including Tools for Thought and Smart Mobs

“What was novel becomes normative and mainstream. Currently social networks are a new flare with much excitement. While the flare may diminish, as Gen Y grows older, the utility and functionality will not. For example, social networks create easy means of organizing social groups. As Gen Y ages, they may spend lest time bantering and babbling, but will continue to find the utility of social network tools valuable. As they age, they will expect to employ these same skills in finding a car, buying a house, looking for a graduate school, networking in careers.” —Robert Cannon, senior counsel for Internet law, Office for Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, Federal Communications Commission, founder and director, Cybertelecom

“People don’t ‘grow out’ of fundamental practices for which they see no viable alternatives, especially once they have invested so much energy into the networks and spaces within which they operate, and while there are so many social connections and so much social capital pulling them back in. No, I believe this ship has sailed, at the private and interpersonal as much as at the professional and commercial level – sharing, rather than secrecy, is now the preferred option by far, and what isn’t shared might as well not exist in the first place. Two points of caution, however. First, there is a need for users from all generations to become much more sophisticated in their understanding of the implications of their choices of what they choose to share or not to share, and I think this more sophisticated understanding will develop over time (the hard way, for some). Second, even by 2020, there may still be a substantial minority of holdouts, of non-participants, who do not engage in those practices. The more dominant sharing as the default practice becomes, though, the harder it will be for these non-participants to continue to abstain.” —Axel Bruns, associate professor of media and communication, Queensland University of Technology, and general editor of Media and Culture journal

“The answer is complex, with some of both outcomes mixed together. As people get older, they will become more concerned about what they share and whom they share it with. Participation in social networks, virtual worlds, and the like, will not fade. It is not just the young who are interacting there now; older folks today are moving into that space. Those who grow up familiar with those tools will evolve new ways of using them, but will not turn away from them.” —David D. Clark, senior research scientist, MIT, an Internet pioneer who has been active in building its architecture since 1981, now working on the next-generation Internet

“They’ll take the skills they’ve learned as sharers of information – not ‘ambient broadcasters’ – and put those skills toward other kinds of goals.” —Dan Gillmor, director of Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University and author of We the Media

“As people grow older, they participate in more than one community, each with its own values and language. I expect young people will need to learn to separate their various identities as they mature.” —Irene Wu, director of research, International Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, Yahoo fellow in residence, Gergetown’s School of Foreign Service

“I suspect that social networks will remain popular and most users will continue to post at least some personal information there. It’s become a common and useful channel of personal awareness and discourse. I do think that more people will become more judicious about what they post to social networks, and more aware of how that information gets shared. Humans are fundamentally sharing creatures. That’s how we work, and how we create society. I think danah boyd is dead-on with her comparison of online social interaction (including sharing personal information) to ‘social grooming’ in primates.” —Amy Gahran, contributing writer at eMeter Corporation, senior editor at Oakland Local, co-creator and community manager at Reynolds Journalism Institute

“The ‘digital natives’ will mature and find other interests which will likely change the intensity of their online activities, though not their willingness to use online tools. The younger Internet user will likely become more selective in online use over time, but not negative toward its use.” —David Olive, vice president of policy development support for ICANN; formerly general manager, Fujitsu America, Washington, D.C.

“The ambient broadcasting is a passing phenomenon, one that we’re all likely to outgrow as we understand the implications of leaving behind a perpetual, searchable record. This doesn’t mean broadcasting will cease – it means it will be more careful, cautious and controlled, even by GenYers.” —Ethan Zuckerman, research fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, co-founder, Global Voices, researcher, Global Attention Gap

“Digital natives will take the lack of privacy and ease of broadcasting personal information as a given. While they will become savvier about not sharing personal information that can lead to victimization from fraud and identity theft, they will continue to live their lives in the open.” Mary Joyce, co-founder, DigiActive.org

“There are two processes at stake. 1) The process of aging which will change the values as well as specific needs and desires for the individual use of the Internet, but not the use of the Internet as such. There will be a tremendous development of new genres and communication patterns. This process also implies that the variety of usages (and probably also new values and reasons for using the net) will grow. 2) The process of expanding penetration rates in different countries, which is uneven, will generally effects all countries, but it is not clear whether mobile devices will be more widespread and relevant interface to the Internet than PCs and laptops.” Niels Ole Finnemann, professor and director of the Center for Internet Research, Aarhus University, Denmark

“There is a constant evolution in behavior. Among young people, I have observed huge privacy shifts from 2005 to today. So I fully believe that these trends will continue to shift, as we evolve to the technology and the social effects. I also believe that technology will shift; the ‘social networks’ of today will have different modes of interaction and content sharing. In 2020, the idea of listing one’s ‘Favorite Movies’ and other rudimentary forms of identity-production will appear archaic.” —Fred Stutzman, Ph.D candidate, researcher and teaching fellow, School of Information and Library Science, UNC-Chapel Hill

“It will change to a more measured and self-reflective approach to information-sharing. I am not so sure that today’s digital natives really embrace widespread information-sharing, as much as they embrace wanting their friends and those they choose to have almost constant access to information exchanges. But, I expect the practices that they are experiencing today to influence their expectations about always on and ubiquitous access, and that they are increasingly expecting that technology and online/Internet services will be integrated into daily life. Those expectations may portend major and different breakthroughs when they become the paying user, not just the tween and teen consumer.” —Marilyn Cade, chief executive officer at ICT Strategies and mCADE LLC, past vice president for Internet and Internet governance at AT&T

“As people age, that which they have to share becomes more tame. Thus, while the digital natives may be sharing less embarrassing things about themselves, they’ll be sharing things that are likely to embarrass their kids, who in middle school will discover that every step of their potty training is has been blogged, with photographs, for their friends to see.” —Stuart Schechter, researcher, Microsoft Research, formerly on the technical staff at MIT Lincoln Laboratory

“We will see two (apparently) contradictory evolutions in today’s Generation Y’s behaviour. On the one hand, they might abandon some of their current practices of intensive personal content sharing on the Net and usage of some social networking sites and other ‘friend-focused’ practices. Nevertheless, we believe this will be more a qualitative than a quantitative evolution: quitting some of these activities will be more related to the evolution of their actual tastes – and socialization needs – rather than a matter of ‘growing out.’ Instead, in quantitative terms, we think that the generations that were born with the Internet and, especially, the ones that grew with the Web 2.0 will have specific practices embedded in their social code. Thus, once in the job market, they might get rid of some practices but translate the essence to their jobs: collaborative working, high exposure of professional portfolios online, working directly on digital and Web platforms, or be present in professional (and also personal, of course) networking sites might become common ground and a driver of exclusion for those not being able to live in this landscape.” —Ismael Peña-López, lecturer, School of Law and Political Science, Open University of Catalonia, researcher, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute

“What the public desire, the Market will provide. There cannot sustainably be a bringing together of the most personal life and the public professional life in the online world. Either companies will split apart, with some specialising in professional networking and others in the private networking of close friends and family, or sites akin to Facebook will devise user friendly means of demarcating between public and private information. What can be certain is that Internet networking will not be going away!” —Francis J.L. Osborn, philosopher, University of Wales-Lampeter

“But they will have learnt which things to share, and a new ‘netiquette’ will have emerged regarding the information shared by others.” César Córcoles, professor at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain


Privacy is less meaningful to Millennials and their changed norms will stay with them, perhaps in new forms. Social styles get imprinted in people early, though social strategies change. Millennials will not revert to the traditions of their parents and grandparents when it comes to being public actors. The yearning for privacy will seem an artifact of the past. And their lifestyles will influence their elders’ and institutions.

“The social styles learned in the formative teen years tend to carry on through adulthood – limited mostly by ‘learning painful lessons’ about the occasional down-sides of openness.” Jim Warren, founder and chair of the first Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference and longtime technology and society activist

“By 2020, we will have established new social norms regarding the sharing of information. Having been burned by too much openness, I expect Gen Y and the Millennials to become somewhat more guarded about their online presence. They will have more to lose.” —Dean Thrasher, founder, Infovark, a software company that makes Enterprise 2.0 tools

“I reckon people will become a bit more selective, but it may be that people develop other ways to keep ‘secrets,’ for example about thoughts rather than deeds.” —Dean Bubley, founder, Disruptive Analysis, an independent technology analysis and consulting firm

“I would expect Gen Y members to find even more uses for social networking beyond their adolescent wanderings. They will connect with extended families, form consortiums of parents to communicate with educators and even play online multiplayer games with their kids, their cousins, and distant friends.” —Barbara Ferry, director of business and editorial research, National Geographic Society Libraries and Information Services

“As the digital natives become influential people in our societies, transparency and openness in business and government will increase, leading to a less corrupt and more honest world.” —Hjalmar Gislason, founder and chief executive officer for DataMarket; former director of business development at Iceland Telecom


Governments and businesses with an interest in promoting people’s open sharing of personal information will play their own role in encouraging Millennials to broadcast personal information and in adjusting to these new realities.

“The advantages of information sharing will be heavily and successfully marketed so that only those on the fringes will withhold their personal information. This will occur despite occasional scams and misuse of personal data. Security will continue to get better but not good enough to eliminate misuse.” —Charles M. Perrottet, founding principal, Futures Strategy Group LLC

“There will continue to be strong corporate pressures on the consumer to share information, and those incentives will not abate. Today’s digital natives have formed a habit of sharing information, and habits are almost impossible to break.” —Hal Eisen, senior engineering manager at Ask.com

“It is clear that all generations are happy to share information, the key is for technology to come to grips with the fine line between public/private or domestic/everyday-life concepts that people are using with these technologies. This means that either corporations will have to learn to encode these distinctions through a ‘hard-core’ of code with technical protection measures, or else perhaps governments will need to legislate to prevent the harvesting of data. Either way the open-sourcing of public life will not be going away.” —David M. Berry, author of Copy, Rip, Burn: Copyleft! and a lecturer on sociological and philosophical research into technology

Advertisers and corporations will want people to provide their personal information and their ability to offer ‘goodies’ will increase.

“The real question will be people’s willingness to sacrifice privacy for certain potential benefits. Many people will learn that they have in fact been sacrificing something and endangering themselves by sharing too much information. They will become more judicious in what they share on which networks. And they will desire greater protection of privacy and become advocates for stringent privacy rights. Many others will be seduced by the promises of sharing information and will sacrifice their privacy and will come to value the ‘goodies’ they can get by providing personal information. Over the next decade there will be increasing discrepancies between countries in terms of privacy laws and the protection of privacy. Advertisers and corporations will want people to provide their personal information and their ability to offer ‘goodies’ will increase. States will want to collect as much personal information as possible in order to more efficiently control populations. Depending upon the relative strength of democratic forces in various nations, privacy will either expand or erode. In the US, sharing of very personal medical information will become a battleground in this contentious area. On the one hand, sharing complete medical information and personal history will have life-saving potential that many will desire and which the government, insurance corporations, and a health-care system increasingly controlled by financial institutions will exploit. If I were to hazard a guess, in the short-term in the US private information will become increasingly gathered by the government and corporations and will not be adequately protected.” —Benjamin Mordechai Ben-Baruch, senior market intelligence consultant and applied sociologist, consultant for General Motors

“The amount of sharing will be dependent upon many external elements to the digital natives. If things such as network neutrality keep the Internet open and an increase of economic opportunity remains with the Internet, we will see an increase and continuation of digital natives being broadcasters, connectors, etc. If opportunities decrease due to restraints put upon the Internet infrastructure, participation will also decrease. Lets hope the current decision and policy makers keep the Internet open and a place that encourages participation.” —Peter Rawsthorne, learning systems architect and council member, WikiEducator, IT team lead and solutions architect, Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia


Time pressures will eventually assert themselves. It takes a lot of effort to broadcast your thoughts and whereabouts and the demands of busy lives will cut into Millennials’ interest in sharing so much detail about themselves.

“I suspect Gen Y’s constituents will realize, as they age, that they simply don’t have the time to devote to broadcasting their activities and keeping tabs on all of their acquaintances. They might also come to the realization that they never really cared all that much about constantly knowing what everyone else is doing.” —Christopher Saunders, managing editor, InternetNews.com

“The area of transparency and disclosure is hard to define and determine in the long term. The Web has grown quickly and changes in focus and function almost following Moore’s law for processing power of PCs. It is true that age brings wisdom and reservation and it may be very likely that Gen Y/Millennials will indeed pull back, share less, and focus more on family. Time is always a challenge as we all age, grow a family and take on ever increasing levels of professional responsibility. Priorities as a result change which may impact one’s ability and desire to share.” —Kevin Novak, co-chair of eGov Working Group at the World Wide Web Consortium and vice president of integrated Web strategy at the American Institute of Architects

The activities won’t go away, but will slowly lessen as a priority. Less and less discretionary time will likely force Millennials to continually reassess priorities and adjust online behavior.” —Paul DiPerna, research director at Foundation for Educational Choice, conducting surveys, polling, Internet/social media projects


Growing older does have some influence on behavior and will continue to do so.  Some privacy practices are too valuable to give up.

“My impression has been that sociability declines with age, and that the obsessive other-directedness of youth gradually gives way to self-direction.” John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, former director of cyberstrategy and other projects for the Federation of American Scientists

“It should be blatantly obvious that getting married and having kids reduces both the inclination and opportunities for ‘widespread information sharing.’ ‘Not a soul down on the corner. That’s a pretty certain sign that wedding bells are breakin’ up that old gang of mine’” —Seth Finkelstein, anti-censorship activist and programmer, author of the Infothought blog and an Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award winner

“As people age, their attitudes change, and I expect that young people will share less as they get older. I see this as a factor of their life circumstances changing. Parents, for instance, behave differently from non-parents, and one of the things that people often inherit along with parenthood is a bizarre caution that could easily inhibit some of the sharing that took place at earlier times in their lives. I don’t think young people will ‘grow out’ of wanting to use social networks, play online games, and do other ‘time-consuming’ things. Other interests may replace some of those, but in many cases, those tools and games are part of how they relate to the world (they certainly are for me), and even if they share less information while doing those things, the interest will remain.” —Rachel S. Smith, vice president, NMC Services, New Media Consortium

“Their enthusiasm will persist, but their time to do so will diminish as they age.” —Esther Dyson, founder and chief executive officer of EDventure, investor and serial board member, journalist and commentator on emerging digital technology

“This is perspective and way-of-life trend. People will use their time differently as their lives change, but the fundamental broader sharing of personal information and connecting to various publics seems to me to be a powerful trend.” Gary Marchionini, professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, US

“There is no question in my mind that the enthusiasm to share information, especially personal information, will wane. First, there is the novelty effect at the moment. Second, there will be enough cases of bad things happening to people who put too much information about themselves online that there will be greater caution. Third, as Gen Y ages, they will have more information to keep private.” Peng Hwa Ang, dean of the School of Communication, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and active leader in the global Internet governance processes of WSIS and IGF

“They will be left to complain about the challenges of their spawn, whom to their possible surprise may seek more restrictive boundaries, in the ever-present cycle of human expansion and contraction.” —Eric James, president of the James Preservation Trust and publisher of Stray Leaves, author and lecturer


New digital divides will occur as those who are comfortable with gadgets have reputational and productivity advantages over those who are not as comfortable – or those who cannot afford the gadgets.

“This one seems obvious to me: we aren’t going back to the days of friction in personal information. The flows are flowing and will continue to, and those who aren’t digitally literate will miss out on crucial educational and economic opportunities. The real problem we face is the divide between the rich gadget hounds and the poorer Millennials. Not everyone can afford the freedom that releasing all that information makes possible.” —Susan Crawford, founder of OneWebDay, Internet law professor at the University of Michigan, former special assistant to President Obama for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy

The flows are flowing and will continue to, and those who aren't digitally literate will miss out on crucial educational and economic opportunities.

“Sharing is the natural state of humans, in general. Our Industrial Age culture developed because our education and social systems adapted to that prevailing economy. It is a culture developed around the concept of competition for scarce resources. Primeval culture, the original reason for humans to socialize, is based on abundance by contribution. ‘Digital natives’ will show the ‘digital immigrants’ the abundance in the power of contribution. And even then some of us will still remain ‘digital undocumented workers.’” —Jack Holt, senior strategist for emerging media, Department of Defense, Defense Media Activity, chief of new media operations, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs