Press-Republican

Guest Column

April 13, 2014

Privacy concerns make a comeback

From 1800 to the 1920s, the word “privacy” appeared in publications at a fairly constant but low frequency.

The rate of citation increased somewhat between 1920 and 1960, followed by a very steep rise (except for a mild dip in the early 1980s) through the year 2000.

I gleaned this information using the Google Ngram viewer at: http://tinyurl.com/m2hxsf8. The way it works is explained nicely at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Ngram_Viewer.

Basically, the Google search engine explores its book database for any word or phrase you enter, and creates a graph that displays the relative frequency of that word in its huge books database over the time period you choose.

“The word-search database was created by Google Labs, based originally on 5.2 million books, published between 1500 and 2008, containing 500 billion words in American English, British English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, and Chinese,” according to Wikipedia.

For example, language researchers have used Ngram to study trends in “mood” words (like exhilarated/apathetic, cheerful/depressed, etc.) and have evidence that American English has become more emotional in the last 50 years (http://tinyurl.com/nbk44ka).

If you’d like to play with Ngram, you can also examine how the usage of the words “kindergarten” and “nursery school” were replaced by “child care” over the last half-century, as well as many other examples at https://books.google.com/ngrams/info.

So, other than the Ngram data, what evidence do I have to say privacy is making a comeback? Unfortunately, the other evidence is weak; it’s anecdotal but since it’s based on personal experience, it’s very convincing — to me. 

Based on the reactions of students at SUNY Plattsburgh from the 1990s to pretty much the present, I have observed the issue of privacy wax and wane, but the underlying trend is there has been a growing unconcern amongst our youth about privacy. They are neither happy nor unhappy about the assault on privacy from both the government and the corpocracy; they are merely apathetic.

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