The Age of Transparency
In the 2000 remake of Invisible Man
pointedly titled Hollow Man
) director Paul Verhoeven, makes the interesting point that morality is a thing only as long as someone can see us. Render us invisible and pretty much anything goes.
The cheesy trailer (which does the film injustice) manages to also miss the point by mentioning that “power is in the wrong hands” and suggesting that moral lapses are possible when you “don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror” - https://goo.gl/pjQVdF
. I mention this here because, of course, at the turn of the century, social media was not a thing, semantic search did not even exist as a notion and radical transparency (http://goo.gl/x3G2dn
), back then, lay firmly in the future.
Ashley Madison got hacked (http://goo.gl/rXo0Rp
) and the possibility that all the stolen data may be leaked to the public web must be making some people uncomfortable. But the greater point here is not really about the loss of privacy that those who used the service, reasonably, expected to enjoy as they went about their business, but the fact that we are now in the age where embarrassment, itself an emotion felt in relation to other people (https://goo.gl/1iy28v
) may be a thing of the past.
It’s not that nothing matters any more. Quite the opposite actually. In the pre-social media world of silos and closed doors, while we all knew that everyone is human and therefore fallible, capable of behavior that is not always to our personal interests, we all took a perverse sense of pleasure, reveling in the opprobrium of the fallibility of a fellow being. The subtext then was that our own failings were better hidden, less likely to be exposed, more difficult to discover and we could therefore rejoice with a sense of relief and display the moral outrage that would deflect attention from ourselves by publicly vilifying, someone else.
In the transparent world of today, that emotion may be vanishing fast: http://goo.gl/p0Os2N
. Rather than worrying about the ‘fall of civilization’ when suddenly it becomes OK to be less than perfect: http://goo.gl/kVoiav
in public, we should feel elated because it cuts through the protection of the old boy network (https://goo.gl/iRNfVa
) where special interests looked out for their own, and reveals, even retrospectively a world where not only where human failings covered up but way more serious behavior was overlooked: http://goo.gl/3DarWC
and tacitly accepted: http://goo.gl/XOWpL0
By bringing morality (itself a social construct) into the public gaze of a social media connected world the debate of what is of real value to us can finally begin to take on a more reasonable, reaoned tone: http://goo.gl/ovZujT
There is a problem with this and unsurprisingly it harks back to the past: https://goo.gl/kqTiLq
. Tar and feathering was very selective. Visited by the strong and powerful upon the weak and helpless as an abject lesson to their peers. As social media empowers us all, it also makes us all capable of such behavior. In the ever shifting dynamic that makes us each in turn, powerful and weak, oppressor and victim we find that navigating the 21st century eddies of an always-on, transparent world, requires knowledge of an etiquette we have yet to form: http://goo.gl/SbbM5s
. The results, predictably, are mixed: http://goo.gl/YlutFc
. As likely to be bad as they are to be good: http://goo.gl/0NEdF9
Social media can give us a voice, where we had none. It gives us power when in the past we were powerless. It can help us see things we would not have ever seen before: http://goo.gl/2ZT8v4
. It can turn us into mobs when once we were isolated and alone. It can give us temporary status when we are not used to having any. As Jon Ronson says, this is a strange world where we fail to grasp the subtleties of content and context and are too easily swayed by the trend of the moment: https://goo.gl/4ILEam
In the 21st century we clearly all have power even if we have not quite learnt the Spidey lesson regarding its usage: https://goo.gl/K5Y1xG
, or a little more prosaically, in the age where we all live in glass houses, we still have not given up the habit of throwing stones.
I am not suggesting for an instant we stop using social media. I am not even saying that we should stop questing, questioning, examining, asking why has something happened and what is its impact. In The Social Media Mind
) I wrote that: “ Social media is addictive precisely because it gives us something which the real world lacks: it gives us immediacy, direction, a sense of clarity and value as an individual.”
As the ‘real world’ and the digital converge, as the world becomes an always-on, single place of learning, communicating and interacting, as the notion of a global village (https://goo.gl/MtIG4C
) comes ever closer to being realized it’s important to remember that beneath the momentary sense of empowerment, status, importance and power what really makes everything work, what truly should always matter, is our humanity. Our ability to work as people, with people. Our capability of understanding context and intent before we react to content. If we get that right, there is nothing we shan’t be able to set right. But we must get it right, first.
It’s Sunday. You know the drill. Chocolate ice-cream (because it’s summer in at least half the world), cookies, croissants and chocolate cake should be on offer. You’ll need lakes of good quality coffee to wash it all down with. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.