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Survey Says...We Want Privacy

Computers, smartphones and tablets are so ingrained in our everyday lives, it's hard to imagine life without them. For younger people (18-29), technology has always been a part of their lives and they can't imagine life without its conveniences. Older computer users have incorporated technology step by step as it became necessary to accomplish certain tasks such as shopping, banking or getting information online. But how do people feel these days about all the technology that surrounds, enhances and invades their lives? A poll by the Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor attempted to get some insights into American thoughts about our digitally enhanced lives. Here's what the survey revealed:
  • Thirty-nine percent of respondents said that the ability to access information, from anywhere and at any time, has made their lives better.
  • Many people say having the flexibility to work remotely is one of technology's major benefits.
  • Only 7% of those surveyed thought shopping online and streaming music or movies were the best parts of the Internet.
  • A great number of people fear that we are all slowly losing our privacy.

Generation gap.

Katie H., a 25-year-old master's degree graduate from California, thinks that technology makes it easier to get through school, get work done and stay in touch with people. "It's helped me do homework and network with people when it comes to my career," she says. She also uses Skype (a face-to-face video chat program) and other social media apps to connect with friends internationally. "I've made connections with friends in France and it helps me stay in touch. It's great and part of my routine." People 55 and over might be slower to adapt to all the latest technologies, but they still appreciate how the Internet makes everyday life simpler. It's all about quick and easy access to helpful information. Darla J., who is 68 years old and thinks of herself as almost computer-illiterate, still goes online often when she needs information. And she finds it. "I use the Internet to find recipes, learn how to kill bugs that are eating the tomatoes in my garden and get help with keeping my old dog healthy. The Internet is like opening up an encyclopedia that's got everything you want to know, right there at your fingertips. It's all there."

Privacy concerns.

Even though most people who go online are getting something positive out of it, a growing percentage of Americans are NOT happy with one byproduct of living so much of their lives online—the reality, or perception, of a loss of privacy. The survey revealed insights into how people feel about that:
  • Only 17% surveyed said that they didn't have any real privacy concerns.
  • Nearly half, 44%, feel strongly that the Internet and other technological advances have invaded their privacy.
  • The remaining 34% had mixed feelings, but admitted that they do go online and hope for the best.
Of course, older generations (who view themselves as wiser, more cautious and more experienced) are warier of losing their privacy than are Millennials (the generation born between 1980 and 2000), who have lived in an era of constant technological advancement. So it's not surprising to learn that about a quarter of that group said that technology is actually good for their privacy. "It's not that I think our privacy is at risk," said Steve L., a professional in his late 40s. "I know it is. All you have to do is watch the news or read it online, and read about all the companies that are getting hacked and having their data stolen. It worries me." Katie H. agreed, but it doesn't stop her from exploring all that new applications have to offer. "I'm young but not totally na´ve," she explains. "I know that if you put something out there in cyberspace, there's a chance it might wind up in some database, but is that necessarily dangerous? I'm counting on technology firms and security experts to do what it takes to protect us. You can't slow progress." However, not every younger person agrees. Christian M., 28, said he avidly follows his favorite teams online and counts on instant access to information, but he's also aware that using some online applications, especially social media, can cause a lack of privacy and even lead to personal harassment. "It's like anything else in life, I guess," he says. "You have to take the bad with the good." Most Americans would probably reluctantly agree with that assessment—but that's also why many people are still wary of social media and the new technology that is designed to keep us connected online.

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