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Privacy in the Millennial Age: Are We Oversharing or Undersharing?

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Privacy in a digital era. Here we go again! One of the great issues of our time (or so you would think, based on the fact that someone always seems to be talking about it).

So what's the latest?

Google is apologizing for a recent breach in their Google Street View system (sort of) and is pledging to improve their privacy controls and training in response. Facebook's personalized ad placements might be unwittingly outing homosexuals by targeting them with gay-friendly advertisements. And perhaps most crucially, pictures of our ex and some hot new fling are finally being kept under wraps - or at least not shoved in our faces - thanks to an outpouring of Facebook user frustration and heartbreak over seeing our former "In A Relationship"-ers pop up in the site's new Photo Memories feature.

I've met Baby Boomers who keep themselves up at night worrying about identity theft. I've seen them fret over the possibility that someone, somewhere, via the internet, will steal all of their secrets and knowledge and hopes and dreams.

But does our Millennial generation actually care about privacy?

In the 1991 Madonna documentary Truth or Dare, Warren Beatty claimed of Madge:

She doesn't want to live off-camera, much less talk. There's nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it's off-camera? What point is there in existing?

Our generation presumably comes from this exhibitionist school of thought. Do we Millennials not do or say anything unless we can post about it on Facebook? Aren't we all just chronic oversharers who don't appreciate anything that we can't tweet about later?

And how is this tendency to overshare online affecting our ability to share within our real life interactions - and particularly, within our romantic relationships? Are we still holding on to our personal privacy in some way, if only when we step away from our phones and computers?

Once upon a time, you had restrictions on who you could talk to at any given moment. If you had a thought or concern or emotion or epiphany, then you could generally only tell the person with whom you were in a room, or call someone who may or may not have been home to pick up the phone. This presumably led to lots of conversation between you and the person who took up most of your time (for our purposes, let's say that's your significant other). You quickly got used to talking to each other because, well, who else was there to talk to?

Nowadays, you can shoot that thought out in any number of ways. You can reference it in your Facebook status, or text it to a friend, or call your Mom about it on her cell, or reveal it on your blog. You can BBM it to your co-worker, or make a funny joke about it on Twitter. You can make a Miley-style confessional video about it and post it to YouTube. You're no longer forced to share and communicate with the person who just happens to be sitting next to you on the couch. If anything, getting a reaction from the masses - instead of from your couch buddy - can be more addictive than settling down for a real conversation with only one person.

So we're oversharing online. But are we undersharing in person? How can we spend so much time communicating with so many people - without also stifling the opportunities for communication in our primary face-to-face relationships?

This question has struck me many times while conducting nationwide in-person interviews for my book, WTF Is Up With My Love Life?! . Over the past few months, I have sat down with many individuals who are in relationships. However, I have not sat down with many couples who are in relationships - despite often suggesting that as a possible scenario and exciting perspective for the project. There have only been a few couples who have agreed to it. And subsequently, the preliminary differences that I have noticed in those couples who do and don't agree to be interviewed together have been meaningful.

The couples who agree to be interviewed side-by-side usually project a partnered sense of being fully open and communicative with each other. They have no advance idea of what questions I am going to ask, but they don't seem nervous or scared or uncomfortable at all. And while it's possible that the proximity to their significant others causes them to discuss their relationships through glasses that are more rose-colored than their individual counterparts, all of them have also been open to discussing their romantic problems and hardships with me. Nothing seems to throw them during these interviews - it's as if whatever I could possibly ask them, they have already said to each other before.

It's an inspiring scene to watch.

Yet like I said, the majority of the coupled-up people who I have interviewed choose to go it alone. I understand the impulse - I run a website about (non-)dating and relationships (the ultimate space for online oversharing!) and have nonetheless made a point of never including any specific details about my own love life, for fear of alienating the people who inhabit it.

But I am a single woman, navigating the sensitive and ambiguous waters of post-dating courtship, whereas many of my interviewees are presumably one half of solid, stable relationships. Their honesty and self-awareness during these conversations is incredibly admirable, and very real, truthful things are always said. Which often leaves me wondering, why are they telling me - a stranger writing a book, perhaps the equivalent of a casual Facebook friend - about these fears and feelings and desires and expectations and worries regarding their relationships...instead of telling their significant others? Shouldn't they be the first ones hearing all this?

It is possible that we Millennials have become so comfortable sharing the minutiae of our lives with almost-strangers that we are simultaneously becoming unaccustomed to engaging in genuine, revealing interactions with some of the people who truly matter to us most. Just as performing in front of a faceless crowd can ironically be easier than putting yourself out there in front of close family and friends, communicating with our Twitter followers may now feel more natural, and less emotionally risky, than communicating with our romantic partners. For better or worse.

Privacy may not be entirely dead for our generation after all. We might be shrugging off our need for it online, but also holding it ever closer in our real lives.

For more on the post-dating world, check out www.WTFIsUpWithMyLoveLife.com.

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