Watching you watching me watching you

We live in a new, very public age. While most of us didn’t quite grow up with the Internet, it’s been a major part of our lives. To these new generations of kids, a world without the Internet belongs only in the history books. It’s made the world closer and more open in many ways. This comes at a price of course.

Ever since the book “1984” was published, many people have been strongly concerned about their privacy and keeping “Big Brother” from knowing every detail of their lives. “Big Brother” is typically thought of as being the government, but that’s not necessarily true these days. While it’s quite possible that our lives are being monitored more closely by government agencies, “Big Brother” is really closer to you than you think. It could be your friend, your parents, somebody across the world. And is this really a bad thing?

We put out so much personal information these days, often times without really thinking about it. A lot of us seem to have a need to share our lives with the world.

Blog posts about the recent developments in your life or in that of someone close to you. Pictures uploaded to Flickr, complete with timestamps and information showing exactly where the picture was taken. Discussions on a public forum. Presence information on IM accounts showing when you’re at your computer, your mobile phone, how long you’ve been idle, and what your current away state is. Twitter updates saying what you’re doing right now and what you have been doing over the past several days. Complete social relations maps showing who you know and how. Online videos showing you and your family at a gathering. Nearly all of this indexed and easily searched by anybody anywhere in the world at any time.

There’s all kinds of information about us out there, and a lot of people are watching, probably more than you’d suspect. Some guy 500 miles away may know you better than your neighbor does. Now, this is all information we choose to put out there. You’d don’t have to have a blog, or use IM, or put your pictures up somewhere, but you probably do, and your kids most certainly will.

Is this bad? I don’t think most people involved see it as a negative thing, and hopefully most are aware of how much personal information they’re leaking. People usually just consider it as a normal part of being in a wider net community. Posters on LiveJournal or Planet GNOME know they’re not only talking to specific communities but to the world. It brings people from all over closer together. Friendships develop, ideas are born, knowledge is spread. These are all good things. On the flip side, some people you’d rather avoid are going to pay close attention to you. You may never know and you may never be impacted, or you may end up needing a restraining order. It’s all part of being in a community, right?

If we’ve come to accept this, should we really be worrying so much anymore about “Big Brother?” Afterall, aren’t we all playing that part to some degree? Do you think a government is really more of a personal threat to you than some random guy that reads your blog and watches your Flickr gallery, or is it really a higher authority that you should worry about? In the end, is this more of a benefit to people, bringing us all just a bit closer together, or a danger?