Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Life in a glassy fishbowl

One interesting comment appeared today on my previous post:
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well described. However there is missing area. Security. People usually not expose contacts which could be pretty close and they feel that another their contact dislike/ hate the person. Second, not all communication whatever intensive mean we are friend or colleagues. Imagine yourself complaining to any bigger company. Many times long story and no relationship will happen. Third, Unified ID. Thanks God there is no way how to enforce it (now). ID itself is great idea, however real people abuse anything they can. Now you loose at maximum limit on your credit card. However with digital identity you could loose more. In worst case you could be completely impersonated with all consequences. In digital world (now I exclude mixing of real and digital world) your reputation could be easily harmed and your chance to prove your innocence is limited

2:23 AM

Good points! However, the future world will not care about which developments we would prefer to happen. There is one general observation we can make even now: the level of transparency our our future world will change. My hypothesis is that whether we like it or not, this "transparency level" will increase significantly. It however doesn't mean our world will necessarily become a worse place for life. It may work just the opposite way: if all information is transparent we can live a more peaceful life than today - no more will anybody be a subject of gouging, no more will anybody be nervous that something secret will be found out. All information will be public. Everybody will have to live his life with a full knowledge of this fact to avoid negative surprises.

The other side of this new set-up however is that we all will have to accommodate our life to this new situation. We will have to live our life as if we stood at every moment on a public stage. It is not inappropriate to compare this situation to a new kind of religion - from the time when the God saw everything (so people had to behave gently and appropriately), we are now approaching a situation when we can be sure that whatever we do can be observed, archived and found by anybody, even by our worst enemy. (And to be frank, to a great extent we already live in this situation today - or do you really think our emails and calls are safe these days?)

Meet my mistress, darling!
Specifically to your first point: I fully agree with your comment that not all our contacts would appreciate to know all other contacts we do have or we communicate frequently with; for example, our wife will not appreciate our mails, calls and meetings with our mistress(es), your boss will not value our job application to the competing companies, etc., etc. However, as I said above, this will be not our choice to decide which information we will share with whom (I do exaggerate here, but only slightly). It will result in a new, "transparent" world and this world can basically have two consequences:
  1. People will start to behave "more appropriately" (knowing the consequences of each steps they are doing), or
  2. People will become more liberal and will accept certain situations as "normal".
I frequently think about how this new level of transparency will influence peoples' relationships. My tip is that the final result will be between these two extremes and will be different for different areas (work code of conduct will probably be more liberal than the personal code of conduct). It will be certainly very interesting to see how this develops.

Business of personal?
Your second comment falls into a more general category of how to split "business" communication from the personal one. The question is, do we need to split them at all? I agree with you that although even in business we can (and do) make friends, we all have personal experience with annoying communication with institutions which lead nowhere (only to personal frustration). But my experience tells me that in these situations we tend to limit the communication to an absolute minimum.
In addition, there are other tricks that can be used, which will help to separate the"real" relationship with the fake one. If somebody is, say, a speaker of a large corporation, he automatically gets lots of messages every day and he also replies to lots of messages, because it is the nature of his work. In this amount of communication, his personal share of communication with any particular client gets naturally pretty low. And this can be one of the clues to our problem. Weights of the friendship can be taken relatively in respect to the overall amount of communication of every person of the communication.
Interestingly enough, such an algorithm would work also well with celebrities, actors, politicians, sport stars, and all people who receive lot of attention and thus lot of communication (even with our boss). It would automatically take into account the "weight of the communication" on every side of the communication. The more asymmetrical the communication is, the less important the relationship probably is. There is certainly need to work out such ideas to a much more detail and to come up with better and better algorithms.

Let's live in a glassy fishbowl
To your third point: yes indeed, everything in our world can be and will be misused. I don't however think an instant "loss of identity" can occur; on the other hand, somebody can pretend he is you. But to make this really work he would have to do it continuously for a long time and invest quite a lot of energy into it. Frankly, most of the people have other things to do. In other words, most of the people are normal: tell their real names when we meet them on the street, do wear their own faces, not masks, and tell their real names to the phone when they call us. So I tend not to be too pessimistic here. But indeed this will be a problem. Certainly some mechanisms will appear to fight these frauds and certainly there will be even smarter frauds invented that circumvent these mechanisms. But as I said, most people behave normally and this is, frankly, why our world works, and why the future world will work, too.
Much bigger problem would thus will be how people will cope with the new transparent world where there will be an absolute minimum of personal secrets. It will depend only on us how we tackle this new situation.

So I would correct your saying slightly:
In a digital world you will have to build your reputation every moment of your life.

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