The Transparent Society


A few days ago, Jon Udell wrote about the transparent society. I remember having a conversation with him a long time ago about this idea — the idea that none of us has any secrets. We all can know each others’ financial situation, relationship situation, what we do in our spare time, and so on. It was a fascinating idea — the way this would force a change in our social contract(s). Imagine what life would be like if everyone could know how much money you make (and you could know how much money anyone makes). Or where different people are investing. Or spending their time. Or what TV shows they watch. Or who they spend their time with. If you could look at anyone and quickly learn everything about them, they’d have no secrets. Nor would you. It’s both terrifying and liberating to realize that the number of subjects we consider taboo today just because they’re against part of our social contract (as opposed to things we consider taboo because they actually hurt someone else) is rather large.


Brin has a book dedicated to it.


Comments (6)

  1. Sebastian says:

    A society isn’t free if there is no privacy. It is true that privacy helps support the "social contract" of not sharing certain types of information. But, on the other hand, without that social contract, the peer pressure to conform would be even stronger than it is now. It is a fact, for example, that certain sexual practices are considered acceptable in the United States and that a large number of other sexual practices aren’t acceptable at all (although everybody does it anyway). A society without privacy only worked if there were no prejudice, no judging of one’s behavior by others and a strong sense of confidence and self-esteem on the side of the citizenry. To be honest, I know no place that is like that.

  2. But what I find fascinating to consider is that, since, as you say, everyone does "it" anyway (whatever "it" may be), wouldn’t the social contract change? Wouldn’t it have to? If you keep playing out the scenario, the change period would be hard, but the end result would be an interesting place. Of course, socialism looks great on paper, too. 😉

  3. Sebastian says:

    I’d agree with you on that the result would be nice. It would be great if we finally got to a point where there were no prejudice and discrimination. I’m not so sure how to get to that though (and it seems to me no one else has an answer either). The reality is that forced open-ness will only lead into chaos and conflict. Right now, the fact that we don’t know about all the ills of our civilization (or have a way to tune it out, aka denial) is a an advantage because it allows us to get by every day. If there were no privacy and all the problems in the world be open and omnipresent, I don’t know how people would react. The use of denial as a survival strategy can’t be underestimated.

  4. I can’t deny that. 🙂

  5. ilona says:

    I don’t believe there will be such a thing.

    At least not in the sense of an equilibrium of power. There will always be echelons of ability and privilege, and that means ceilings that the lower echelons will not be able to penetrate.

    The people at the top having access to information AND ability to keep secrets while those down the line will have more limited access, but being constantly monitored.

    It sounds like a recipe for tyranny to me.

    Oh yeah, I think something already addressed that…… the Big Brother of Orwell fame.

  6. 小说 says:

    A society isn’t free if there is no privacy.It is true that privacy helps support the "social contract" of not sharing certain types of information. But, on the other hand, without that social contract, the peer pressure to conform would be even stronger than it is now.

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