Naked Transparency Meets Freakonomics

January 15, 2010

This post has been a little while in the writing (been busy with job search activities, as well as behind the scenes work on PodCamp Toronto 2010, where I’m on the organizing committee, looking after the finances) – last week I followed a link that I saw tweeted by Chris Brogan to a blog post written by Jon Udell titled Contextual clothing for naked transparency.  The blog post was in turn inspired by an interview with Lawrence Lessig that Udell heard on the CBC Radio show Spark*.  The host of Spark, Nora Young, was interviewing Lessig about his essay Against Transparency: The perils of openness in government in The New Republic.

The essence of Udell’s post was that “naked transparency” did not necessarily result in positive results, and he argues that context around the information revealed about people in the name of transparency is essential for providing the proper perspective.  Udell quotes from Lessig’s essay, where he argued that the lack of critical thought about what makes transparency work in a positive way will lead to very negative outcomes – inspiring only disgust and not the change and reform that those championing transparency hope so fervently for.

And that got me thinking about the basic tenet behind the book Freakonomics by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner, which is that the response to an incentive is not always the one desired by those putting the incentive into place to drive a certain behaviour.

Now Levitt and Dubner apply the methods and tools of economics – statistical analysis of the behaviour of a population in response to specific stimuli or incentives – to demonstrate their thesis, and like any “pop” version of a non-mainstream subject they have perhaps over-simplified and sensationalized some of their data and conclusions (for example, see the Wikipedia article on Freakonomics which has sections on “Reappraisals” and “Refutations”).

But even allowing for that, I think it’s evident that the results of incentives are often not those that were anticipated, and I think that “naked transparency” may well be one of those cases.

It will be interesting to follow the consequences to society as increasing requirements for transparency continue to be imposed, to track both the unanticipated ways in which people or organizations will find to circumvent those requirements as well as the unexpected negative impacts on those who faithfully comply but are caught out by lack of context.

If you know of any specific examples of where the “conventional wisdom” that maximum transparency is always a good thing has been turned on its head, I’d like to hear about it – leave me a comment with the details.  And I’d certainly also appreciate hearing about your thoughts on the hidden downside of naked transparency.

*I’ve mentioned Spark before and told you how awesome the show is (whether you listen to it on the radio, or the podcast as I do), but I have to apologize to Nora and the Spark crew for being a little behind in my listening – a computer meltdown last Fall threw my podcast listening completely out of whack, and I still haven’t got back on track even after nursing our PC back to health.


6th Photo Meme – PAB2008 Time for social networking in person between presentations

December 5, 2008

Time for social networking in person between presentations, originally uploaded by Rob_42.

I’ve been tagged by the lovely and talented Bob Goyetche (co-organizer of Podcasters Across Borders a.k.a. PAB, and co-host of the Canadian Podcast Buffet) for the 6th Photo Meme. And since there’s apparently an innocent dolphin’s life at stake, I figured I needed to follow through on it…

The rules of the meme are simple enough, it works like this: if you use Flickr, go to the sixth page of your photostream and pick the sixth picture there, then post it to your blog.

Except I don’t post many photos to Flickr, so it took a bit of juggling with the photstream layout to get it onto 6 pages. And even then, there are not 6 photos on the 6th and last page — so I’ve fudged a bit by using the 3rd photo, which in my pretzled logic I reasoned was halfway to 6.

So the photo that’s posted is actually from PAB 2008 — nice bit of symmetry after being tagged by one of the organizers :)

In the photo, you can see the Comfy Sofas that were a new addition to the facilities this year, and by all accounts were very popular so it’s likely they will make an encore appearance at PAB 2009.

And people, you can see people — that’s the great thing about attending PAB is meeting people face-to-face that you’ve know via the internet. This photo was shot in between presentations, when everyone had a chance to mingle and talk.

OK, so the backlighting from the windows was less than ideal for the shot, but you work with what ya got, eh? Still turned out reasonably well, particularly given the age of our camera — it’s a circa 1999 vintage Kodak DC290 digital camera, with a whopping 2.1 megapixels and an appetite for AA batteries like you wouldn’t believe (have completely worn out several sets of rechargeables over the years with it).

Now, to tag 6 new recipients:

John Meadows Damn! Blevis beat me to him…  let’s try tagging Oza Meilleur instead.
Valerie Hunter
Colin
Todd Tyrtle
Mark Blaseckie
Nora Young

Forgive me for meming you… but it’s for the dolphin!


Required Read… er, Listening

April 30, 2008

If you do nothing else this week, go listen to these two podcasts:

Oh, and if you still happen to have an hour left over, go listen to the DicksnJanes podcast episode #149 wherein K, I and some friends and acquaintances from podcasting help The Scarborough Dude celebrate his 60th birthday this past weekend.  Happy birthday, Dude!

And while you’re at it why not go read Bob Goyetche‘s excellent rant over the morphing/rebranding of Podshow into Mevio (WTF???  Just what kind of drugs were they on when they came up with that name?) – the comments are particularly worth reading.


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