Archives: transparency

It didn’t start with Trading Spaces, but a minor addiction I developed to that show was maybe one of the first strong signs. Next came a fixation on the magazines Dwell and Make, and now there’s Craft.

I built a computer desk with the exact configuration of sliding keyboard/wacom trays I wanted, from scratch. After moving to my new apartment, rather than throw/give away the moving boxes, I made a bunch of custom slipcases for an otherwise ragged assortment of paperbacks.

I started drawing again.

Back in 2003 I had a slogan; “Debt free in ’03”. It was an effective organizing principle. I got out of debt that year. I’ve been looking for a new slogan, something catchy and simple, to focus life this year. The theme is making things, creating, instead of just consuming. I have nothing against consumption; it’s just that at some point you need to decide on which side of the equation you want to live most of your life. Production is better than Consumption.

P > C

There seems to be quite a resurgence of the ideal of the amateur – the person who follows a pursuit out of love, not strictly out of professional duty.

If all goes well, we might be looking at the beginning of what David Brin sees

“as a looming ‘Age of Amateurs,’ wherein a highly educated citizenry will be able to adeptly bring to bear countless capabilities and individual pools of knowledge, some of which may not be up to professional standards, but that can find synergy together, perhaps augmenting society’s skill set, at a time of need.”

Warren Ellis imagined something like this in his 2002 comic book series Global Frequency. He imagines a worldwide organization of first responders composed of ordinary people who have specialized skills, who might be called on at any time to head off catastrophe.

But, even on a more modest scale, everywhere I look these days it seems like I’m seeing the amateur ideal being held up as an worthwhile pursuit.

The title of this blog is a riff on David Brin’s book length essay The Transparent Society which explores the implications of ubiquitous survailance with regard to privacy and freedom. His argument is that in order retain freedom, the tools of survailance need to be available to everyone. His answer to the ancient question “Who watches the watchmen?” is “The watched.”

In making this argument, he advocates a robust role for an informed, amateur citizenry in building a free and resilient future. It looks in many ways like this is starting to form itself already.

For a quick example, consider what’s happening to the entertainment industry.

Advertisers, long demonized as the puppeteers of material greed, are now scrambling to find ways of inserting themselves into an accellerating diversity of user propelled media. Mass attention is no longer funnelled into very few monolithic one-way channels, and seems likely to never be aggregated so completely ever again.

Though the Internet itself started as a big government project, and has its infrastructure maintained by an assortment of large telecommunications companies, most of the profitable activities that are engaged in on that network were born out of essentially amateur endeavors. Users both provide and consume content, and advertisers simply ride along, hoping to be noticed.

In the old television model of media distribution, advertisers underwrote the entertainment produced by professional specialists in the hope of capturing the attention of consumers on behalf of their clients. Now, the model is shifting to one in which advertisers pay the consumer base directly to make their clients’ messages available in association with entertainment that the consumer base produces for itself.

In the early days of humaninty, all life was transparent. You lived in a small familial group or village, and everybody knew everybody else’s business, and everybody did everything. Civilization grew, accumulating large population centers, giving birth to annonymity, privacy and specialization, and eventually nobody really knew what anybody else was doing, and people relied on professionals for many of their daily needs. Now, enabling technologies have developed to the point that privacy and professional authority are diminishing again, and though we still live with tremendous population concentration, life is becoming essentially more village-like by the day.

I mentioned this idea to a friend, who countered that it might not be such a good thing, that a degree of privacy might be a necessary enabler of innovation, as it’s difficult to buck the system when everybody is looking over your shoulder. There are reasons pre-industrial life is dominated by unchanging tradition.

I wonder if there is a different quality to the loss of privacy in such a large population base, though… individuals will probably retain a level of annonymity simply as a function of the sheer number of other individuals. No one will have time to pester everyone.

That’s a fairly shallow dismissal of a good objection, though. I’ll think about it some more, and see what I can come up with in response.

In the meantime, I encourge you to tune yourself in to the Global Frequency.