100 S C I E N T I F I C A M E R I C A N
© 2008 SCIENTIFIC AMERIC AN, INC.
The Road ahead
the end of
Young people share the most intimate details of personal life on socialnetworking Web sites, portending a realignment of the public and the private
By Daniel J. Solove
e has a name, but most people just know
him as “the Star Wars Kid.” In fact, he
is known around the world by tens of
millions of people. Unfortunately, his notoriety
is for one of the most embarrassing moments in
In 2002, as a 15-year-old, the Star Wars Kid
videotaped himself waving around a golf-ball
retriever while pretending it was a lightsaber.
Without the help of the expert choreographers
working on the Star Wars movies, he stumbled
around awkwardly in the video.
The video was found by some of the boy’s
tormentors, who uploaded it to an Internet video site. It became an instant hit with a multitude of fans. All across the blogosphere, people started mocking the boy, making fun of him for being pudgy, awkward and nerdy. Several remixed videos of the Star Wars Kid
started popping up, adorned with special effects. People edited the video to make the golfball retriever glow like a lightsaber. They added Star Wars music to the video. Others mashed it
up with other movies. Dozens of embellished
versions were created. The Star Wars Kid appeared in a video game and on the television shows Family Guy and South Park. It is one
thing to be teased by classmates in school, but
imagine being ridiculed by masses the world
over. The teenager dropped out of school and
had to seek counseling. What happened to the
w w w. S c i A m . c o m
Star Wars Kid can happen to anyone, and it can
happen in an instant. Today collecting personal
information has become second nature. More
and more people have cell phone cameras, digital audio recorders, Web cameras and other recording technologies that readily capture details about their lives. For the first time in history nearly anybody
can disseminate information around the world.
People do not need to be famous enough to be
interviewed by the mainstream media. With the
Internet, anybody can reach a global audience.
Technology has led to a generational divide.
On one side are high school and college students
whose lives virtually revolve around social-networking sites and blogs. On the other side are their parents, for whom recollection of the past
often remains locked in fading memories or, at
best, in books, photographs and videos. For the
current generation, the past is preserved on the
Internet, potentially forever. And this change
raises the question of how much privacy people
can expect— or even desire — in an age of ubiquitous networking.
The number of young people using social-networking Web sites such as Facebook and My Space is staggering. At most college campuses,
more than 90 percent of students maintain their
own sites. I call the people growing up today
© 20 08 SCIENTIFIC AMERIC AN, INC.
S ocial-networking sites
allow seemingly trivial
gossip to be distributed
to a worldwide audience,
sometimes making people
the butt of rumors shared
by millions of users across
P ublic sharing of private
lives has led to a rethinking of our current conceptions of privacy. E xisting law should be
extended to allow some
privacy protection for
things that people say and
do in what would have
previously been considered the public domain.
S C I E N T I F I C A M E R I C A N
Every day people post
more than 65,000 videos
In 2006 MySpace surpassed
100 million profiles.
Since 1999 the number
of blogs has grown from
50 to 50 million.
More than 50 percent
of blogs are written by children
younger than 19.
“Generation Google.” For them, many fragments of personal...
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