My latest commentary for public radio’s "Marketplace" aired today. It is headlined, It’s a Transparent Society, So Get Naked.
Science-fiction author David Brin warned a decade ago that in the future, privacy would be impossible. Our best option would be to live in a "transparent society." Welcome to the future.
Teens and adults today are choosing to publicize where they live, what they believe in, what their friends are like. On the Internet, it’s easier than ever to disclose yourself. Yet we always hear the same thing from concerned parents and employers: What’s happening to privacy?!
It’s easy to dismiss today’s hyper-publicness as the doings of rash teenagers, or egomaniacal bloggers obsessed with their personal minutia — easy, and wrong. In fact, a rational cost-benefit analysis shows good reasons to live a naked life. That’s because there are benefits to transparency.
Take increased social connectedness. Losing track of childhood friends used to signify adulthood. Now, every old friend is a Google search away. Soon, 50-somethings may still be in touch with their high-school friends. And by disclosing your passions online, you might even make new friends. I know I have. Openness brings people together.
Look, it’s true that transparency has its costs. Down the road, today’s teens may regret posting those drunk pictures and gratuitous blog entries. But since 97 percent of teens and tweens say they belong to a social network, everybody will have a screw-up or two from their adolescence.
This creates what some call "Mutually Assured Embarrassment": If you smear me with that post I wrote at age 15, I’ll spread photos of you sucking on a beer bong.
And transparency isn’t all-or-nothing. Today’s networks have detailed privacy settings you control. As blogger Jeff Jarvis has put it, "Publicness is good so long as we decide how public we want to be." Like it or not, the transparent society is here.
Most of my friends are out on the Web, where we tell the world who we are and what we think. Those who are still fully clothed shouldn’t be surprised if folks start asking, "What are you trying to hide?"