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What Does ‘Generation Wiki’ Think About WikiLeaks?

How’s this for a generation-defining intro?

We are Generation Wiki. We are interconnected collaborative creatures, and we like to share. We link and like, comment, post and poke. We Yelp when we're hungry, Skype when we're lonely and Gchat throughout the day. Our cell phone bills are light on minutes and long on data almost every month.

It’s written by Ethan Wilkes, a graduate student at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, in "The Guardian."

Where other generations came of age to the sound of the evening program on the wireless or huddled around the color television in the living room, for Wilkes’ generation it was the “beeps and cackles of a 14k modem connecting to America Online.”

And where Generation Wiki has often been castigated for its wanton oversharing, Wilkes makes the important point that digital natives’ approach to privacy is far more nuanced than others give them credit:

Our online profiles reveal little more about our character, competence and intellect than our choice of clothing does, because we know our boundaries, however unspoken. In fact, we are remarkably self-regulating and adept at maintaining privacy, in a very public manner. What we share tends to be topical, trivial and rapidly replaced. The way we share it is marked by a unique etiquette.

Comfortable with the “ambiguities of the digital age” Wilkes then tackles WikiLeaks and what he says is the “current [U.S.] strategy of trying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted.” To the author, WikiLeaks is simply representative of a world where “information is in abundance and easily diffused.” In particular he mentions Columbia University’s warning to its students that they could damage their career prospects if they download any of the material.

As my musical epiphanies were in the late 1980s, I thought I’d ask some of our staffers in their 20s for their reactions to Wilkes’ piece.

Courtney Brooks:

I think the observation that our generation is inherently public while also carefully protective of information surrounding our private lives is a good one. We also had the unique experience of being weaned on AIM, LiveJournal and MySpace before the creation of Facebook.

It seem as if by the time we acquired Facebook and its incredibly vast reach we had already realized the effects sharing our private lives and thoughts in a public arena could have on both our social lives and future careers. In this way Wilkes' argument that Generation Wiki "has known all along about information gone viral: we consume, comment and move on; the story dies when we are done with it. Trying to put the genie back in the bottle is no way to deal with an expose once it has gone online," almost goes against the grain of his earlier thoughts, which really resonated with me.

"Generation Wiki," especially those educating themselves at schools like Columbia, should know a lot better than to post information still technically classified on Facebook if they are applying for federal jobs. And who says that Generation Wiki wants an "answer" to the WikiLeaks "crisis" anyway?

John Cleveland:

The intro is great, and right on. But when the author makes the jump to the WikiLeaks fiasco, he loses me.

I just think it's a bit disjointed, and a stretch to say that because "Generation Wiki" is so Internet savvy, they should have some kind of unique cure-all for the WikiLeaks fiasco. I don't air my secrets on Facebook because that would be detrimental to my career and life. The government should guard its own with similar caution.

I'm also not sure what my generation growing up with AOL has to do with Columbia University cautioning its students to avoid the leaks. That's supposed to be counterintuitive because (gasp) we were born into the Internet age?? Seems like a reasonable suggestion to me if, say, you ever want security clearance.

I don't know, this seems like a pretty half-baked idea. I'd be interested to see some concrete suggestions.

Ashley Cleek:

Yup, pretty much me (though I don't Yelp, though I have dreamed about the day I can get back to NYC and FourSquare). Also, I think it should be added that we are also a generation that understands both -- I mean, we know the limits of our parents and older generations and don't judge too harshly their technological hardheadedness. In the same vein, there is a certain respect for people that can manage the parameters of technology well -- like someone who can send a good tweet or a good text. Several of my friends are known by monikers such as "the one who texts cleverly," "snarky e-mailer," etc.

I think this is why I am not freaking out so much about Julian Assange. I will happily consume the information he puts out and I will follow its effect, but I am up to my ears in information and I like it that way, and I can't have him taking all my time. I know that something else will come around soon that I will also need to study up on.

But this is right particularly about profiles we create and how we show ourselves. We are not honest online. Or, if we are, it is a well-crafted labyrinth of signs and allusions that only people we think we may like would be able to translate. I think this is one reason why Facebook has slowly gotten rid of those click-down menus for things like "religious views" or "political views" because its users want to be more clever than that, want to be able to present themselves in a more nuanced way.

Kristin Deasy:

Love it -- though, um, I don't Yelp when I'm hungry. That would be a no. Anyway, I thought the clothing/sharing information association was particularly keen and a good way to explain it to another generation. But the final question already felt behind the news cycle -- where is this going? Why, hello, OpenLeaks! No doubt many more similar orgs will spring up, just as in the early days of the press, and eventually a few major trusted sources of leaked information will emerge as the giants of the transparency field.

Whether the transparency field will itself be transparent -- and by whose standards -- seems to me to be the most fascinating question of all. Will it cleave to free media-like ideals (as OpenLeaks seem to want to do) or will its political associations be as obscure as they are in, say, the pharmaceutical industry? This seems like the debate worth having that, of course, we're not having.