Monday, October 18, 2010

Notes Toward a Post To Be Written

One of the things I'd like to write about is our changing concepts of secrecy. Here's today's post that reminded me of that. It's only one.

There's much wringing of hands about what we're giving away at FaceBook, and what Mark Zukerberg would like to do with it. The latest flap seems to be that playing Farmville and Mafia Wars open you up to having your personal information sold. Well, duh! I've clicked on any number of things that friends posted that looked like fun, and the first thing I've hit is a box that says something like "You must agree to make all your information available to anyone we choose." So I've missed all those surveys.

And I have removed all notifications about Farmville and Mafia Wars from my news stream. I do get the occasional chuckle from rants like "I have killed all your animals and burnt all your crops." Shades of the Mongol invasions of Europe.

But the real questions about secrecy go much deeper. The Bob Woodward syndrome, which Emptywheel cites in that post I've linked, is a start. Those in power can leak what they want, but others in government can't. We're moving toward a more egalitarian society, and some of the younger people coming into government are going to see this as inappropriate. Heck, I see it as inappropriate. There are (or, perhaps, were) good reasons for keeping some things secret. Then bureaucrats and politicians alike started using classification more and more to hide their mistakes or to put barriers in the way of their rivals. All of which degrades motivation to keep things secret and, more fundamentally, muddies up thinking on what really, truly needs to be secret.

And the younger generation just sees a lot of this differently. A younger relative tweeted me an apology for not linking to a post recently, for everyone to see. Probably fewer photos of drunken parties are being posted lately, but even the prohibition against such things is going to weaken, just as the prohibition against politicians' marijuana use has weakened, as more of those realistic young people come into public life.

So what does that mean for the "real" secrets? And they do exist. Detailed instructions for building nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. Bits and pieces are on the internet, but I doubt that it's all there. Maybe that is just a matter of time. Diplomatic negotiations and war plans. Both subject to time constraints, so perhaps their secrecy can last long enough for them to be effective. Less important to a broad public are industrial secrets - how to make various things work, the formula for Coca-Cola, stuff like that. And on down the hierarchy is personal stuff. People are still going to be doing things that they don't want others to know about.

I'm mostly interested in the strategic things. I'm convinced that we could use more transparency than we've got now, but there are some things I'd really rather not see on the internet.

This is just a preliminary set of thoughts. It's an awfully busy week this week, but I've been thinking about this for a long time.

1 comment:

MT said...

The way we talk about "our privacy" is sort of upside-down. It would be more apt to talk about "our publicity." But we publish different editions in different spheres--work, daycare, mardi gras. It's about personal marketing--how much control and how much power we have to do it. But if there's any respect in which we might want to be protected from ourselves it's this one. This is about our reputations, for which we live and will forever be willing to die...and not necessarily in a good way. Notice how we begrudge billionaires, corporations and media executives the liberty to publish political speech to anywhere near their full capacity. This is about rights to broadcast and monopoly. Expression is a human capacity, and we each hear and see and feel individually and personally--not as a collective being, even when we sit together in a stadium or theater. If we are free to move about and free to assemble, I think we have all the power that it makes sense to allow off leash. Shock and awe spread plenty well through personal sympathy. Fireworks are for special occasions and only by permit.