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Posts Tagged ‘transparency’

Wanting privacy is not about needing something to hide. It’s about wanting to maintain control. Often, privacy isn’t about hiding; it’s about creating space to open up. If you remember that privacy is about maintaining a sense of control, you can understand why Privacy is Not Dead. There are good reasons to engage in public; there always have been. But wanting to be in public doesn’t mean wanting to lose control.

-Dana Boyd “Making sense of privacy and publicity.”

I liked the article by Boyd and especially the video chat of Michael and Kyle.  I find a lot of connections between transparency and authenticity. Michael said one of the barriers to transparency is fear. Boyd says privacy is about control. I find both are true.

Secrets are held because people want to hold some type of power over another, or fear what may happen if those secrets are revealed.  Some hide because of those secrets, many times out of shame or guilt. That doesn’t mean we all post our Social Security numbers on the web. But I have seen situations where people lie on a resume because they are embarrassed about their age, previous employer, etc.  When we become transparent we give up power and control and become on equal footing with the other.

If we sit down in a coffee shop and I share my life with you, you now know me better than you did before. Many people wouldn’t risk that encounter. Maybe you now know my childhood and struggles I have had in my life, and will forever see me in a different way than you did before. Whatever power I may have had by this secret (and it may just be my perception) is now over and I could be considered vulnerable. No wonder people joke about so-and-so going out for drinks with friends and by the end of the night in a drunken stupor tells things they wouldn’t have. We want power and control over relationships…only giving out information as we see fit.

I remember reading the book Freakonomics, a great read. I remember one section where the KKK are compared to real estate brokers. Huh? How can such a comparison be made? But the comparison was made because both (very different) organizations have been altered by the influx of information available. The KKK thrived on secrecy, and those white hoods kept a mystery active about who they were. Once information became available and the KKK were exposed for the scum they are, people no longer have the same fear. They are no longer a secret organization because now their secrets have been revealed. A much less extreme example is real estate agents. When you went to buy a house 30 years ago, you depended on knowledge only the real estate agent had. But now, you can do your own research and find similar information. You don’t have to accept the agent’s words as truth. The mystery of home buying is gone.

In both cases, transparency has changed the rules. Knowledge, which should create freedom, is usually abused and becomes a source of power. Knowledge becomes power in the hands of the few. Think about the Middle Ages where only men were able to make decisions, or even to read. The church controlled people’s lives and enforced rules and regulations, and people who had no access to literacy or education were subjected to them. Martin Luther and the Reformation of course changed much of that, and the emphasis of “the language of the people” put people in charge of their own believing, living, writing, learning, etc. Now knowledge was used to create equality, or at least it gives everyone a shot at bettering themselves and their world.

A former principal of ours used to have our free newspaper copies in the library confiscated at various times. If there was a story on there of a student arrest, an accident, or some other event he felt was not appropriate for students to read, he would pull them thinking they would not find out the information. Since there has been such negative press about the school during his tenure, teachers would try and grab these papers. This newspaper has an awful website which often doesn’t even have stories from the newspaper on it. Since there was so little communication, we would have to read these articles to find out what was going on in our own school. Since those papers were sometimes confiscated or we would run out because of the popularity, I would often scan off the article and email it to teachers who wanted it, using a phony title for the document because we didn’t trust who was watching and who wasn’t. You can’t make this bleep up. I decided I was going to allow information to get out no matter what. It was the newspaper for crying out loud.

People often remark at how unique I am in terms of transparency and honesty. My counselor says it is because many people are intimidated by someone being upfront and honest because they are fearful of being such. Many people don’t feel so comfortable at sharing who they are and where they are from. I used to be like that. I grew up in a dysfunctional home with a father who didn’t want anything to do with me. We lived in the biggest eyesore in town. When I would get rides from friends because we often didn’t have a car, I would have them drop me off down the street and would walk home. I didn’t want them to see my house because I was ashamed. It took many years to get over these feelings of low self-worth, anger, and utter frustration. Today, I use these stories to connect with other people, particularly high school students who come into the library and tell me how tough their lives are. They recognize transparency when they see it, and I don’t claim any skill or expertise other than talking honestly and listening to what they have to say.

I find the only way to be authentic is to be transparent. I find I can laugh at my flubs. Last summer when my wife got a divorce, I noticed how people acted so hesitantly around me, probably afraid to say something hurtful. I don’t find hurt in discussing, but rather comfort. And in the midst of this sharing with people, many of them opened up to me about either a divorce they went through which I never knew about or a similar situation within their family. It almost seemed as if it was a relief to them to have someone to tell their stories to.  It also seems as if the sense of having to control that part of their lives gave way to the relief of having someone to share with.

I am supposed to be talking about libraries and transparency, and I feel this all relates. We have to be honest, keep away from the guardian mentality, trade secrets and jargon, and focus more on seeing the patrons as human beings and not chicken scratches. Some of the things mentioned are helpful: get input from the town before a major project. Get feedback from the patrons as much as possible. And patrons remember the librarian who finds the time to talk with them about their lives. Despite the tweets and status updates, it’s hard to really find someone to talk to.

Reputation Defender offers a service whereby you can delete the less-than-flattering online tracks and fingerprints you leave along the web. And no doubt, students need to be taught how to be smart and safe online. But life is a journey and these journeys are full of plenty offline tracks we wish we hadn’t made. Like building a collection, we realize some things need to be weeded out and new things are needed to be brought in so we have a fresh new perspective on things. The tracks are still there but we can be transparent enough so that they just become another part of the story.

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