Overexposed and overshared: Going private in public and the new desire to disconnect

Kit Kat in Amsterdam created a Wi-Fi-free zone by blocking signals in a five-metre radius around a bench that invited people to “take a break,” and, of course, have a Kit Kat

We joke in our house that my husband is a digital dinosaur. He can text, but seldom does from his flip phone. He has no apps, and he’s not on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. He doesn’t know what Pinterest is, doesn’t blog and uses email only occasionally. Short of showing up in a Google search as having run a marathon, he has no digital footprint.

Turns out, he might be a renaissance man after all, being ahead of an emerging trend where consumers increasingly look to guard their information and digital persona or seek to disconnect.

After several years of displaying our lives publically online, the holy grail may now be finding privacy on your own terms. And is it just me or is anyone else disturbed by sponsored posts showing up in their Facebook feed with creepy accuracy?

However, short of cutting yourself off from all social media and rejecting a smartphone, maintaining privacy has become a challenge. As companies change their settings and data use policies, finely tuned privacy walls can be destroyed with a few lines of code. As consumers we are encouraged to read updated use statements, but we all know how easy it is to just press “accept.”

And it’s not just social media titans we now fear; it’s our own “friends” who share, post, tag and comment. Just because something was done in public does not mean it should receive public promotion. From Facebook updates to tweets and photos shared on Pinterest, we are a society verging on overshare.

So what are creative consumers doing in response? They’re creating Facebook identities with pseudonyms to guard against current and future employers. They’re trimming friend lists back to actual friends rather than an extended ring of acquaintances. They’re hosting “photo free” and “social sharing free” parties where smartphones are checked at the door. They’re creating “dark rooms” at social gatherings where no photos are allowed. They’re making actual phone calls, rather than producing something that can be digitally shared.

If it sounds like a rejection of technology, think again. It’s the use of technology but on your own terms.

There of course is marketing opportunity in this trend, for the company or brand that recognizes it and taps into the sensibilities by “playing on your team” to help protect that identity.

Norte Beer in Argentina invented a clever device called “Photoblocker,” which is basically a cooler sleeve for your beer at a nightclub. Photoblocker detects when a camera flash is about to capture a photo and emits a blast of light to make the photo contents indistinguishable, thereby protecting whatever indiscretions are about to be captured. One could argue the morality of such a device. But you can’t argue how it puts Norte Beer on the consumer’s side of the battle for social media privacy.

In yet another beer company application in Argentina (please reserve judgment on the need for such a device in this country), Andes beer invented a soundproof “Teletransporter” allowing guys to place calls from a sound-proof booth to their girlfriends while at a nightclub, appearing to be somewhere else.

Kit Kat in Amsterdam created a Wi-Fi-free zone by blocking signals in a five-metre radius around a bench that invited people to “take a break,” and, of course, have a Kit Kat. The campaign recognized how it is increasingly impossible to escape the demands of being online, and it was perfectly aligned with the company’s brand positioning.

A quick Google search for “cellphone-free vacations” turns up a surprising number of links. That itself tells us something. Among the top spots listed with sketchy wireless coverage were New York’s Adirondack Mountains, a guesthouse in Cambodia, Ireland’s Aran Islands and Pennsylvania Amish country for a step back into the past.

Some of us might recall a not-so-distant time when we didn’t have cellphones and we got by just fine without them. Perhaps your summer vacation this year is a good time to revisit this era. We’d be initially adrift, I suspect, but ultimately liberated. And right on trend.

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