It seems like we cannot go more than a week without another scandal involving some app/tech/whatever and personal privacy. First it was Path, then Girls Around You, and every day there is an article denouncing the tracking of on-line activity by retailers. There appears to be a general consensus that technology has gone too far and something must be done to restore our privacy.
Welcome to small-town America, folks. Just in time for Fourth of July and to pay respects to Andy Griffith!
I grew up in Phillips, a town of 1,500 or so located in the woods of Northern Wisconsin. The main street is about 2 miles long, there isn’t a single stoplight in town (the first one in the county was installed when I was in high school), and the nearest mall is 90 miles away.
Though I’m sure some will disagree with me, Phillips was a great place to grow up. Cars were left unlocked, kids rode their bikes everywhere and when you walked into the local cafe or Friday night fish fry you knew pretty much everyone in the place. But, Phillips was not a Norman Rockwell type perfect town. I looked up the zip code on one of those child molester websites and, needless to say, Steve Buscemi could play quite a few of my neighbors in the film version.
But everyone knew each other.
You did not need Foursquare to tell people where you checked-in. They saw your car parked outside or saw you walk in. The “mayor”? You knew him because you saw him at his desk every time you walked by the window.
Those pictures of the weekend bash that your friend posted on Facebook and got you in trouble? Your parents already knew because John told Dan in the hallway and Ms. Smith overheard and told your mom at Curves the day before.
No one needed to follow your tweets to know your opinion on politics, religion, or the Packers. They heard it from you down at the bar at Harbor View and “retweeted” it to their friends the next night at Meisters.
The local stores did not employ cookies to determine your shopping patterns to make recommendations. Mrs. Johnson at the corner store knew you preferred the Woolrich jackets and let you know when the new styles were coming in.
This familiarity also contributed to the greater sense of security. Phillips has the same sort of human shortcomings present elsewhere in the world. But when everyone knows who you are and can easily see what you do, it is a lot harder to do bad things. Did bad things happen? Of course. There still was a greater sense of security, however, because so much was out in the open. You knew the folks you didn’t want your kid hanging out with. Your neighbors knew when someone shady was checking out your house.
Everyone knew how to contact everyone else. There was one phone book and it had every house address and every phone number. With that came a sense of etiquette that dictated how you used that information to contact your neighbors. You did not call your friend at dinnertime. You did not go knock on someone’s door after 7 pm unless they were expecting you.
All of the technology, social media, and different methods of communication available to us today is turning our world into Phillips, Wisconsin. We see what our neighbors are doing everyday and they see our activities. This is not a bad thing. Familiarity can build trust and a greater sense of community. It just needs to be incorporated within a frame of context. The community needs to enforce that context and deal with those that operate outside of the context.
FullContact is going to be that phonebook for the 21st century and play a part in building this virtual community. We also are going to do everything we can to ensure that communication using our contacts is done in the right context. Trust me, growing up and living in a small town can be a great thing…especially when the mall is a lot closer.