Friday, August 12, 2011
Who Discloses What, and Why?
I have recently been struck by some peculiar thoughts on the interplay of anonymity and transparency. The mask of anonymity has a strange way of driving online society: it affects the way we view others, and what they think of us, as we are only documents (avatars) of logos, pathos, and ethos. Oddly bedded with this ideal is the notion of radical transparency. The dichotomy that this provokes, for the most part, remains unaddressed, and it creates a sort of tug-of-war over clarity. Who discloses what and why?
This question in and of itself seemingly demands that we all must disclose something in order to engage constructively in online discourse. Now what is this something? I argue that this is class, or our station and minimal qualifications, must be disclosed if we are to engage in legitimate consensus building. After all who wants to take roofing notes from a plumber? How do we verify reputation of someone or some source that is outside of our local? The simple answer, with complete anonymity we cannot and will not be able to independently verify any individual documentation we might encounter.
Now it is one thing to take online learning from an anonymous craftsman, as the soundness of their methods are easy to test on our own workbench. However, what happens when we come to the contentious issues of politics, regulation, or governance? Here now we see the need to disclose that something. After all if the notion of anonymity applies uniformly across the internet then it is not unreasonable to expect government and corporations to enjoin that same standard.
I know, the very ideal of this sets many hacktivists into an unhinged screed over socio-economic conditions, and the loss of civil liberty. However, here is a place where the wires cross, does radical transparency short anonymity or vice versa? Does one's class, as a member of the government or a corporation, suddenly make one unworthy of anonymity? And if so what justification are we drawing our legitimacy from? As long as we remain faceless and nameless we have no legitimate starting place for our discussion.
The simple truth is that radical anonymity is a governing choice. Yet it is in my measure a very poor one. I think most people understand this and it is noticeable that people tend to congregate on websites that provide information that those people trust. As the information itself is now more important then where it might have come from. And it is perhaps in this odd way that we find ourselves locked into our class, and any other self selected sub-groups we might chose. As I've pointed out earlier the internet lacks any of the organizing potential of a street. And without discloure we have no starting point for trust-building.
This isn't to say that no one builds trust online, just that our trust is not based upon our assessment of the individual. Rather our assessment is based upon what someone's avatar expresses.
With complete anonymity, I will never know if I am talking to my neighbor or someone across the world. Yet we must disclose something if we are to even attempt to obtain consensus on anything. Governance though online means will never happen (with any legitimacy) unless people are comfortable being themselves, or perhaps more correctly, expressing themselves honestly, online; and, even then it will still require societal checks, balances and safeguards against dishonesty . So which is it, anonymity or transparency? The simple fact is that both cannot be stitched into whole cloth. The distance the internet places us to others rips at the fabric of the traditional assumptions of society. So who discloses what and why?