Politics & the transparent society
The Mark Sanford affair is all over the news right now. Additionally, a newspaper in South Carolina has released the first batch of emails of private correspondence between Sanford and his mistress. How would you like your personal romantic correspondence indexed on Google News? A few years ago I talked to a CEO of a firm which was developing software for corporations that allows for total transparency in the work place. One of the issues that came up was that most people who clock in for 8 hours of work in the office goof-off a fair amount, from the bottom to the top. If a better accounting of real worked hours could be had the argument is that the work day could be shortened so that time wasted at work could be allocated to a wide range of leisure activities. The short of it is that I’m sure that transparency of personal information is going to go much further than we have today. Consider this story of a robbery solved via Google street view.
What does this have to do with politics? From what I am to understand in the past people in power were allowed to project a public persona which was at some variance with their private life. This disjunction has been melting away over the past generation. If you are going to extol bourgeois probity, it seems likely that you’re going to have to walk the talk. Various sexual scandals involving politicians have indicated to some that their power allows them to satisfy their sexual appetites in a manner which would otherwise not be possible, but in an age of radical transparency this temptation and fringe benefit might be sharply diminished. Or perhaps public norms will shift in terms of what is demanded of their political leaders? The transparent society will effect public figures first, but we’ll all have to deal with it sooner or later.