“Ner, ner, I know something you don’t.”
How many times did the older readers amongst you hear that in school?
“I’ve got a secret and I’m not telling you what it is!”
Yeah, thats something I heard a lot when I was growing up.
Children of all ages, especially younger ones, placed huge value on information back then and knowing something that other people didn’t was a great way to either look cool or really wind someone up, depending upon your character.
When I was a teenager the world was altogether a very different place you see.
Everyone had secrets. Some of those secrets were dark – we’ve all read about historic crimes that have been swept under the carpet and gone unmentioned. Others, however, were altogether far less sinister, like home phone numbers (we didn’t have mobiles back in the day) which would be kept out of the phone directory and only shared with close family and friends.
As a result I think we, as a society, were also far less bothered about what other people were doing. If the guy at number 4 was having an affair with the lady at number 7 then that was their business and we certainly weren’t going to think about it, much less share our suspicions with anyone else.
But things change.
In some respects thats good.
Wider sharing of information amongst police forces and government agencies, along with the proliferation of CCTV, can go some way to mitigating the risk of terrorism and crime. Whatever you may think of stories about the NSA and GCHQ, you cannot doubt that the sheer volume of information at their fingertips at least gives them the potential to avert acts of fear and violence.
But there is a downside too.
The increase in security comes at a cost of an extreme erosion of privacy. Cameras watching us all day, across the entire country, intelligence teams ‘accidentally’ hoovering up every last detail about innocent people and the erosion of trust as leaders discover that their supposed allies are tapping their phones and reading their emails.
There are many people who are quite rightly outraged by this and politicians are, on the face of it, appearing to curtail their surveillance activities lately.
But we’ve lost the war anyway.
Because the kids in the school playgrounds of today aren’t bragging about the secrets they know.
On the contrary, the new cool is to share as much information as possible about everything. And everyone.
Remember the cool kid you went to school with? The leather jacket-clad guy at the back of the class who knew everything but shared nothing. Well he isn’t there any more. His place has been taken by a new kind of hip that sits at the front, watching and listening intently, tapping furiously on a smartphone decked out with all manner of social sharing apps.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and like this and share that buttons are the trendy crew in school these days.
Ideas, beliefs and arguments have no merit but that which is attributed to them through the frequency of their sharing and quality is no more than a sum of popularity.
The currency of keeping something to yourself has morphed into a new form of coin known as sharing everything.
We may have felt a certain sense of dignity in keeping ourselves to ourselves but our children have rebelled and they have created a world in which everyone acts like a celebrity, detailing every aspect of their lives on Facebook, posting the highlights on Twitter and uploading the glory shots to Instagram.
Maybe its good that the next generation finds it so easy to talk, albeit in a virtual rather than real kind of way, but is it a good thing?
My kids think so and try to persuade me that I don’t get it, in just the same way I always felt that my own parents didn’t understand the world I was growing up in. Its only with age and a dash of wisdom that I’ve come to realise that they weren’t so completely wrong after all.
So maybe there is hope that our children will one day grow up and realise that privacy, once given away for nothing, can never be bought back for any price. It will be too late for them by that time of course but they can address things with their own offspring.
Or they could be right.
Maybe we do need a world without secrets.
That certainly sounds good and I can already think of many ways in which our lives would be better if that were to happen. But, and its a big but, there will always be someone who doesn’t play ball. Someone who does keep secrets.
And that person who bucks the trend and says, “Ner, ner, I know something you don’t,” will hold all the cards, have all the power and be will likely gravitate to positions that offer ever more power, ever more secrets to keep.
So I guess some information does have value after all – perhaps we should all pause and consider that our privacy is a valuable commodity… and not give it away for nothing.