Thursday, May 08, 2008

Baby boomers v GenX/Y: Public v private behaviour

Public versus private behaviour
I was in
China recently and, at an arts performance, witnessed a huge audience answer and chat on their mobiles during the entire performance. I asked whether this was normal, and was told that the rules of public behaviour in China are very different. Privacy is rarer and people will happily answer and chat on their phones, even in cinemas while watching films. I’ve been told that this is also common in India. You also notice in China the fact that people stare at you a lot more and are very direct when they ask you questions, about whether you’re married, have kids, your salary and do on.

Technology – going public
It set me thinking. Is technology creating a pendulum swing towards PUBLIC, as opposed to PRIVATE behaviour? Is the thing that marks out the difference between older and younger generations the degree to which they accept public domain behaviour?

Telephony – a public cacophony
Take telephony. It was the domain of private homes or enclosed telephone boxes – those lovely, red soundproof things. We're now bombarded by a cacophony of ringtones and conversations in trains, airports, pubs, restaurants and in the street. People stop walking in front of you as they answer calls. It’s all gone public.

Banking – prefer ATMs to tellers
Take banking. We used to dutifully queue up inside banks to deposit and withdraw money. Now we’d rather queue outside in the street than go into a bank, even if there's a teller available. We prefer the public domain and the machine.

Web – give it up
Older generations are very suspicious about giving out their email addresses and personal data. Youngsters are blasé about this. They recognise that giving up some privacy is part of the deal for receiving free stuff. Social networking is taking your life public.

Are we becoming a more ‘public’ society?
I think so. I see lots of kids in
Brighton wander about, greet other with hugs and handshakes, hang out in parks and on the beach. In general they seem to live their life in a much more open and public manner. There’s a confidence among them that is often taken for aggression or arrogance. Similarly online. They’re just that much more open and social, happy to share experiences, photos, stories, videos, email addresses and so on.

Loosen and lighten up on learning
What can we learn from this? We baby boomers are essentially a private lot. We squirrel it all away, get the house, grab a pesion and never come out. We love command and control, learning management systems, timetables and courses. We love to lock learners up in classrooms and courses. But we may have to loosen up the structures so that social goals are part of learning and work. This means loosening up on the ‘curse of the course’ and all of that ‘talk and chalk’ stuff, that demands undivided attention at a set time. We need to free courses from the tyranny of time and location. Blends of learning must accept that some of the learning needs to be out there and not in the classroom or course. We have to blend into online knowledge management, social stuff and real work tasks, and see it as something people can do at home or somewhere other than the school, office or training centre.


Anonymous said...

It's an interesting point but it mostly feels to me as if the opposite is happening. People seem to use public spaces less - pubs are closing down, for example, cinemas are closing down, and people seem to spend much more time at home - now you can watch DVDs at home on high-definition screens, surf 200 tv channels or play in a virtual world on the Internet, why go out? And people seem to drink at home much more as well. So I'm not sure.

I think what is happening, though, is that the boundaries between public and private are blurring, so people do, as you say, put lots of personal information online, or conduct highly personal phone calls in public. I'm not sure this is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Just this week, I was travelling on the train near a woman who was oudly proclaiming into her phone that she was pregnant, "but please don't tell anyone, yet - it's a big secret!"

When I was studying cultural mores some years ago, we learnt that the English "landed gentry" had a tendency to discuss the most intimate things in the presence of their servants (not with those servants, mind!) which was a tacit way of assigning them non-person status - their presence not qualifying as "public". This was true of Japanese nobility as well, apparently.

We learnt how "posh" people quite often talk loudly in restaurants about personal matters as a way of asserting their superiority by relegating the other diners to the status of non-persons. They feel no embarrassment, but the diners subjected to this barrage are usually mortified.

I wonder if the phenomenon you describe isn't an indication of an increasingly self-involved society that demonstrates its lack of consideration of others by treating them as white noise, rather than as people from whom to keep private matters private.

Just wondering.

Donald Clark said...

Good points. My main observation was about the differece between generations on this one.I just see a lot more young people exhibit technology-drive public behaviour.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

@Karyn – Kia Ora. I think your bit about ‘white noise’ is priceless and I have to say I agree with you.

When mobile phones (cells) started to become popular here in Wellington, I would infrequently have the opportunity of witnessing some of the effects of that white noise – I’m sure we all have our tales of it.

Some years ago while I was travelling to work by bus, a young woman’s cell went off in her handbag. I could see her clearly from where I sat. She got more uncomfortable as she wrestled with the contents of her handbag while the cacophony from the cell got louder and louder.

Eventually she succeeded in snatching it free and began to shout into it with such ferocity that several people jumped in their seats with the impact.

An elderly gent, who sat several seats in front of her, turned round slowly and scowled at the screech. When her conversation was over, she snapped shut her cell, leaned forward and shouted towards the man.

“Are you alright sir?”

The elderly gent turned slowly, raised his eyes and spoke clearly.

“I didn’t think you needed a phone with a voice like that.”

The air was implicit. The bemused passengers fell about with laughter, much to the embarrassment of the young woman.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Anamaria Camargo said...

Your post got me thinking about myself. I’ve been fighting my tendency to fight personal transparency. My need to veil my life, my habits, my likes. My discomfort (disgust) for being too open to the world, too traceable, too public. I’m an e-Learning educator; I need to have a public/accessible online Anamaria. I need to socialize and share and learn and network. So far, it’s seemed like a reasonable price to pay, considering how much I’ve learned (and hopefully have helped others learn). So I blog (in English: and in Portuguese:, I’m on Facebook and Orkut. I’m on SCoPE. I read (with great pleasure) some edubloggers I have come to admire. Yet, every now and then, this weird suspicion comes to my mind… how public, transparent, open is this new world where I’ve come to be a constant visitor (and eventually a contributor)? And of course I don’t ignore the fact that it’s accessible to anyone with an internet connection. I mean open in terms of providing different opinions, opinions I don’t immediately agree with. How transparent is a world where apparently all inhabitants share the same core values, the same basic opinions about education and learning? Sure anyone can disagree—and some do in fact write about their disagreements, but, in general, I’m still protected by a cozy community of peers much like in my private life… Shouldn’t I be openly/transparently networking with those whose opinions I despise? I particularly liked a sentence I found in elearnspace ( where George Siemens says, “A few good cynics are always nice to have around”. Where are the cynics in the edublogosphere? Perhaps I need to look for them in the private, obscure, offline world?

Anonymous said...

This is wow, my favorite blog lady Karyn here with some brilliant observation. This is getting more and more interesting. I observed similar attention seeking behaviour in a train as Karyn, she was shouting that she was unmarried(and quiet available to the cluster of men eying her). It was funny, many of the educated people do swithch off their cells.
Here I would like to put my observation, it's not that I am an introvert but net felt scary in the beginning. I was apprehensive to say the least. Gradually this evolved into a support system. I made friend with whom I could share my problems. As parents we learned many things from each other. Once my son accidentally downloaded some objectionalble stuff and as he unknowingly played it thinking it was a foot ball clip, the thing came on.He started howling and I did not know how to handle this situation except switiching off the computer. I shared this with my American friend, his daughter had been exposed to similar content. He shared his experience with me. He advised me to use this opportunity to educate my son as he is already twelve. I took a walk in the garden and told him all about what he saw and how that was a gross for of a more mature and beautiful bonding that happens between a man and a woman. He understood, networking is changing life in the most positive way possible.
Now that I have developed confidence I do use this medium to introspect and as purgation. It really elps, better to speak it out than to feel stifled in unresolved emotional turmoil.
Regarding the mobile thing, the teens show off their gadgets. Some Indians speak in irritating American or British accents, just to show off. That is insecurity showing and maybe world is loosening up. Thanks for such a well-thought-of post.