Authenticating the Transparency Movement

Like all of us, I’ve been reading many weblogs on the Identity movement, and like all of us, I’ve read some incredibly brilliant, insightful and wonderful posts, such as those from Dale Innis, Botgirl Questi, Emily Orr

Somehow the Identity movement ties with a book I recently finished reading:  “Googled…The End of the World as We Know It” by Ken Auletta.  For a Google-neophyte like myself, it proved a fascinating read.  For those well-versed in the inner workings of Google, it’s probably not as fascinating a read.  But either way, you come away from the book realizing that it’s much more than the exploration of how new media disrupted old media.  It also looks very closely at the increasingly long reach into “other people’s content” (OPC) and tries to suggest (because who really knows?) where that reach is headed.    But in thinking about the wonderful weblog entries on Identity, about this book on OPC, and about the recent statements about how privacy isn’t a social norm any more (a rather flippant statement that I strongly disagree with), it just seems to me that the idea of “other people’s content” now extends itself into the idea of “other people’s individual identity.” 

…what greater content do any of us have than our identity and our sense of self, afterall?

I can see how transparency is very important.  Where I have difficulty is with how transparency is framed up in the conversation (as the very thoughtful posts that have already been published have pointed out so beautifully).  Knowing the manmade construct of a RL name or knowing the numbering system (social security numbers, driver’s licenses, credit cards, home addresses, etc.) won’t tell anyone who that person really is at their core:  what they value, what they believe, how they view life and people and love, what their goals are, what their dreams are, what their fears are, where their struggles are, where their successes are, how they feel, how they’re motivated or not.  I’ve heard it said a few times over the past year that virtual world residents wear a mask inworld.  Not many have said it but every time I’ve heard the few who said it, I found it curious because I’ve never believed that we wear masks inworld to any greater degree than we might be inclined to wear them in the atomic world:  by our labels, our titles, our nicknames, the tones in our voices, by the cultural messages that we buy, our branded items that we wear or drive, our tendency to compartmentalize life…wearing this hat for this and that hat for that at this time or that time.  By the clothes we wear, the makeup we wear, how we transform ourselves through fashion and exercise and time and gravity into messages we want to communicate to the world.  Does a RLname and social security number or credit card number provide greater insight into belief systems and character?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Does it absolutely tell the whole story of a person in every moment of that person’s lifetime?  No way. 

If “get real” *really* is a discussion about the importance of integrity, I wholeheartedly agree.  But that’s something that should exist no matter how we are called in any world.  Names themselves don’t guarantee the presence of integrity.  Our addresses or phone number or credit cards don’t either.  So this push for authenticating, this sweeping decision that privacy has no meaning to anyone (I really hate when someone assumes they can speak for me, let alone a few billion individuals), this increasing reach into OPC, and the foreshadowing of a possible link up of persons to other persons on various social media platforms (in effect controlling Other People’s Choice, Context & Content)…well, it all seems to be converging a bit too conveniently.   If we’re pushing to “get real” (whatever that is) let’s push for it all the way around.  Maybe the organizations that are bringing up this conversation starter should go even further than introducing the topic and state the true reasons why they’re pushing into the most personal content of all, individual identity.  (This rationale does not fly:  that the more connections in a social network platform the more value it provides…in fact, it erodes.  Privacy isn’t dead.  What may possibly be dead in social media platforms is Reflection and Discourse, but if they are, they’ve no doubt been pummelled into near oblivion by the immediacy of the question “What’s happening (now…NOW!…right NOW! this second and every second dammit!).”  So what gives?  Do the manmade constructs of anyone’s real life name or social security number or buying behavior automatically make a person more authentic?  Are we somehow more “fake” if search engines and social media platforms can’t advertise to us based on an analysis of where we’ve surfed and how long we’ve stayed there and who we’ve talked with?  Is the linking up of social media platforms and the ensuing glut tsunami somehow a context more “real” than our own contextual relationship with our own sense of self, our own sense of choice, and our own sense of self- or collaboratively-made community with others?  In any conversation about “getting real” — particularly one started by an organization — I would think the onus for authenticity falls just as squarely on the companies to, well, authenticate their true intentions behind the push.  Something in me suspects the sinister on this one.  (I blame the book “Googled” followed by the declaration by that social media founder dude that privacy is dead when it is far from dead.)  Something in me says the truth may lay in the marketing plans.  If that’s the case, somehow that would be awfully, well, traditional of “new” media institutions, wouldn’t it? 

From “Googled”, an interesting passage (whether or not one agrees with it) on the possible social costs of Transparent Personalization: 

“They impose homogeneity on the Internet’s wild heterogeneity.  As the tools and algorithms become more sophisticated and our online profiles more refined, the Internet will act increasingly as an incredibly sensitive feedback loop, constantly playing back to us, in amplified form, our existing preferences.”  (~ Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch)   We will narrow our frames of reference, become more polarized in our views, gravitate toward those whose opinions we share, and maybe be less willing to compromise because, he (Carr) said, the narrow information we receive will magnify our differences, making it harder to reach agreement.  Carr also expressed concern that search extracts another toll.  ‘The common term surfing the Web perfectly captures the essential superficiality of our relationship with the information we find in such great quantities on the Internet … The most revolutionary consequence of the expansion of the Internet’s power, scope, and usefulness may not be that computers will start to think like us but that we will come to think like computers.  Our consciousness will thin out, flatten, as our minds are trained, link by link, to DO THIS with what you find HERE and go THERE with the result.  The artificial intelligence we’re creating may turn out to be our own.”