The Trouble With Transparency

Sometimes openness seems inevitable. We are on a high speed train driven by technology and open systems – “Knowledge wants to be free” is the saying. I’m not so sure knowledge “wants” anything. It’s people who want things. We are just beginning to explore our wants and technology is a fantastic, and frightening, enabler of that journey. 

Here's the math, as I see it: technology enables data transparency which creates individual and organizational openness which has the byproduct of vulnerability which threatens our privacy.

Organizations seem particularly vulnerable to transparency. I have trouble imagining a future where all organizations of any real size or significance will be immune to its unrelenting light. Anytime there is a gathering, there is data. That data always has value to someone- internally and externally.

But what about individuals? What role does openness play in our individual lives? Openness leads to vulnerability which is a tricky energy. Vulnerability drives all kinds of behaviors and outcomes, good and bad.

Vulnerability is big right now in the business world. And for good reason. It’s a secret weapon. Biz guru Patrick Lencioni said “I’m tired of talking about servant leadership as if there is any other kind." Maybe wishful thinking but it speaks to what works- leaders that show vulnerability build committed teams. You can’t do great things without commitment. 

Now a little metaphysical detour that will make sense later, I hope.

I believe we are wired to create. In my mind, any creation of value serves a purpose. So we are wired to serve through creation. I don’t claim to know the who, how or why of this. I’m just making an observation.

So as Dylan said “you gotta serve somebody”. Why not have it be a group of amazing people? In this case, what has always been true is a somewhat recent revelation in the cut-throat world of business. But again, openness rewards what was once a weakness. Vulnerability works. 

Openness also has an interesting byproduct: data. As noted above, that data has value. Something that originated altruistically (sharing) has become a commodity (data). In the future this disconnect will increasingly drive conflict between creators, platforms and consumers. 

How about another metaphysical tangent? Ok...

Increasingly you can see the revelation of nature’s intrinsic moral compass by simply looking at “what works”- with ourselves, our relationships, our organizations, our government. “Big Data” is essentially revealing our moral DNA. We can debate the author but we are cracking an intelligent code. Our openness, our data, only speeds our discoveries. Many amazing revelations could come, many dangerous tools could be built. I try to see the positive. 

Our collective openness could result in a more empathic world. A world where we truly know and care for each other. But this won’t happen unless people feel safe.

Openness thrives on safety. If we don’t feel safe, we don’t share. 

So openness and vulnerability cuts both ways. Humans are wired to care but they are also wired to fear. Fear drives all kinds of bad behaviors. Fear is the root of all evil, not money. I don’t know what Jesus was thinking. Must be a misquote. 

Beyond creating opportunities for more good ol' fashioned evil, what else will openness do to our nature?

If we open our lives completely to each other (via machines) will we lose some core human element during the reveal? A touch that kills?

Will openness diminish our private selves? That part of us that we only reveal to ones we trust. 

As we rewire for sharing, how will we maintain something worth sharing?

Not to mention the fatigue that comes from sharing. The constant flow of energy, mostly leaving. It’s as if our devices run on that energy. Maybe someday they will figure out how to do that.

After much wandering here’s where I’m at – humans are wired to have an off-state, computers are not. We need downtime. Our human rhythms are poorly matched with a machine’s. Maybe we should make them more human before they make us permanently less. 

This is where we could find some balance between openness and privacy. Creating safe environments for expression. Limited environments. 100% analog, not digital capture. As we open ourselves to each other, let’s remember to keep a good chunk separate, just for ourselves. 

Death To Screens!

Everywhere you go people are staring at screens. I’m just as bad. In line at Starbucks- escape to the tiny screen! Taking a walk- let's check Facebook! Pulling up to a stoplight- save me from boredom oh tiny screen! We are getting further and further away from full sensory experiences and being pulled deeper and deeper into increasingly thin experiences via screens. 

Why do I think screen experiences are thin? They barely engage our senses. We use our hands and eyes and maybe our ears but the medium itself (the screen) is hardly remarkable. This is a bigger problem than you might think.

Memories feed off of physical and emotional markers. Simply put, we don’t remember many digital experiences very well. Study after study has shown this. You are more likely to remember content from a paperback than a Kindle. The physical anchor of that paperback creates stronger memories. Same with emotion. Memories that have stronger emotions connected to them are more likely to stick.

This is why digital communication sucks- conference calls, email, etc. They all strip out emotion- the undertones in our voices, the body language, the physicality of a letter- all gone with most of these communications. People just don’t remember stuff when their senses aren't fully engaged. They aren't fully present- not even to mention they are probably multi-tasking.

I long for a day when we no longer have to stare at screens all day to do meaningful work. A musician buddy of mine, Vess Ruhtenberg, said to me recently- “I don’t think I would have started recording if I’d gone to a studio and everyone was starting at screens. What appealed to me was how studios looked like the deck of the Starship Enterprise”. I totally get that. There are many beautiful, wonderful things that technology has brought up but the screen is proving to be one of my least favorite. I’m hoping that the lords of tech will help us get beyond the screen and bring rich, human interaction back to technology as it existed pre-screens.

Yes, I totally get the irony that this post was written and read entirely on a screen. I wanted to send you all a hand written letter but... and yes, I also know you will probably not remember any of this. Damn screens!

Some research and references for this rant:

Power Cues (all about how we communicate)
Scientific American article about memory retention screens vs paper