Radical transparency

I am attracted to the idea of radical transparency both for individuals and organisations. The idealist in me believes that more openness speeds up the evolutionary process, even if it can cause considerable initial discomfort. We stay stuck because we hide the things we don’t like about our character. We hide them from ourselves let alone other people. Learning to own up to our failings and challenges and dealing with them seems like a good thing.

Certainly if you are an organisation or celebrity in the public eye these days the more open you can afford to be the better. Hiding aspects of yourself or your activities is dangerous and when the shit hits the fan often the best thing you can do is take it on the chin, admit your failings, and move on.

And yet…

There are lots of things that we have to keep hidden – or at least try to. Competitive business information or personal information about people we know like medical records for instance. There is information that we have no right to share without other people’s permission. There are things that we know that to tell others would cause pain and distress. How often have you told a white lie to protect someone you care about from information that would harm them?

It is often not possible to know whether being open with something will cause more distress than it will avoid. Is avoiding distress a good thing in the long run? Who gets to decide?

The Internet makes these dilemmas more extreme. The frequency with which we have to decide for or against openness has increased and the seriousness of the consequences of our decision, either way, has become greater. We need to get faster and more effective at collectively working out our societal responses to these challenges and, ironically, the only way we can do that is to be more open about them and better at working out together what to do for the greater good.

2 thoughts on “Radical transparency

  1. I have been toying with the idea of doing a ‘radical transparency’ blog. The blog would be a place for people to disclose and discuss information about themselves that is already in the public domain and even choose which elements of their personal information not in the public domain they wish to make transparent (think financial, medical, sexual, support for social institutions and movements, etc).

    The basic idea is that with information technology making control of information and thus privacy almost impossible, and with the growing use of information to control both behavior and choices as a means of cultural censorship, the anecdote is personal radical transparency. If everyone knows I am wealthy or a pauper, diabetic or fit, straight or gay, classical liberal or reactionary, etc., then the question of ‘who gets to decide’ is effectively decided by me, and cannot be decided by society.

    I am then free of the problem of hiding my private self from others and free of hiding it from myself.

    Think of it as a kind of pre-emptive strike against the loss of privacy; I don’t have to worry about privacy because I have already disclosed my private information.

    I am wondering what you think of the idea? Is it the sort of disruptive behavior that would counteract the use of previously private information to influence behavior, actions and choices?


    1. Interesting. I agree that the best form of defence is attack and getting your story out there first is the best way of managing your online reputation. I also agree that the more this becomes the norm the less chance there is of particularly the press making stories out of nothing which is largely what people are so nervous about.


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