[This is re-post. I posted this on the Concurring Opinions blog August 2nd, 2010.]
As mankind deploys increasing numbers of sensors, and makes more sense of this data, more of our secrets are revealed. In a world of greater transparency, will you be able to be you? Or will you feel obligated to mask who you are, drawn to the safety of the center of the bell curve?
Will a more transparent society make you average?
Imagine for a moment that video feeds from street surveillance cameras are the blue puzzle pieces, your path through life lit up by your cell phone location as the green puzzle pieces and your Facebook social network as the yellow puzzle pieces. Flicker the brown puzzle pieces and Twitter, orange puzzle pieces. And maybe one day your energy consuming devices in your home may be spewing out the magenta puzzle pieces. As increasing volume and range of data converges, a colorful, highly revealing picture of our lives will unfold, with or without our knowledge or permission. Traditional physical sensors like credit card and license plate readers are one thing. The human is the sensor, thanks to Web 2.0, is altogether a different thing.
Unlike two decades ago, humans are now creating huge volumes of extraordinarily useful data as they self-annotate their relationships and yours, their photographs and yours, their thoughts and their thoughts about you … and more.
With more data, comes better understanding and prediction. The convergence of data might reveal your “discreet” rendezvous or the fact you are no longer on speaking terms your best friend. No longer secret is your visit to the porn store and the subsequent change in your home’s late night energy profile, another telling story about who you are … again out of the bag, and little you can do about it. Pity … you thought that all of this information was secret.
How will mankind respond? Will people feel forced to modify their behavior towards normal only because they fear others may discover their intimate personal affairs? This is what Julie Cohen and Neil Richards have worried about – the “chilling effect.”
Or, more optimistically, will the world become more tolerant of diversity? Will we be willing to be ourselves in a more transparent society?
Personally, I shiver at the though of being on the hump … the hump of the bell curve. I hope for a highly tolerant society in the future. A place where it is widely known I am four or five standard deviations off center, and despite such deviance: my personal and professional relationships carry on, unaffected.
And oh, by the way, more goodness … diversity is good for resilience.
Miscellaneous: About the title of this post: I just thought it was a funny expression. Other funny expressions I enjoy include:
1) Kill all extremists.
2) When you can fake sincerity, you have it made.