Question Forum 4

Question 1 - (Chapter 3)

Transparency is something that Morozov discusses at length in Chapter 3 and it is consequently one of our keywords. On page 96, Morozov describes some ways in which transparency can have the most damaging effects (he refers to Michael Power and his study of “the audit society”). Power refers to “decoupling,” where business men or politicians “facing increased pressure to document everything they say, return to their secret confines and opt to communicate verbally so as to avoid putting anything on paper. Arguably, in such a case, demanding more transparency might produce less.” (96). Power also refers to “colonization,” where those facing transparency will pursue favorable statistics blindly regardless of what values are crushed along the way - for instance, a school seeking higher test scores will focus on nothing but this, despite the children learning less. Some organization might also “flood” potential information seekers so that they drown in a sea of information before finding what they are looking for.

These are indeed proven consequences of said transparency, but should we be able to fix them? Can the internet, which has not only boosted transparency in a positive manner, but also exacerbated the problems transparency presents, come up with its own solution? For instance, software has been developed that can detect fake reviews on commercial sites – can this type of software be developed to send up transparency red flags in instances where transparency may be getting abused? With that in mind, should we side with the internet-centrists and not “tinker” with the internet or its transparency and just let it develop naturally, or should we compromise and try to meet in the middle where information is made “half transparent or half accessible” (110) such as in the Argentinian CAPTCHA example (81) or finally, should we just rid ourselves of transparency entirely?

Question 2 – (Chapter 3)

With all this talk about solutions to double-clicking, bouncing, highlighting/shading, and transparency in general one must not overlook human nature. On page 87, Morozov grants Lessig a small reprieve of his internet-centrism and writes that “Lessig is trying to solve a somewhat different problem; his real target is cynicism in our political culture, not the gradual erosion of privacy or the chilling effect that sites like have on public life”. This is not to say that cynicism is a concrete part of everyone’s personality (or is it?) but those who are quite cynical tend to infect everyone else with there cynicism to some degree, especially through the internet.

Can you fix cynicism? Does it even matter if we are able to fix all the “problems” of transparency? Even if we do search a certain political candidate (or just our neighbor for that matter) and nothing but sunshine and rainbows comes up about them, will the cynic in us come out nevertheless? The internet if full of websites and information that contradict and clash but those people who want to believe something will find themselves only looking at websites that reinforce their beliefs - this is called the the echo chamber. Even if (hypothetically) the “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” is displayed online when you search for something, would it even matter? Would people still see only the truths they want to see? Would the tactics of those wishing to advance their cause shift from manipulating online content to some other method? Would cynicism (among other forms of distrust) begin to wane in the face of absolute truth?

Question 3 – (Chapter 4)

On page 132, Morozov examines truth, hypocrisy, mendacity and ambiguity from a surprising angle: “A project like Truth Goggles seems to embrace a model of politics that treats hypocrisy, inconsistency, and ambiguity as inherently bad and harmful to good politics, as something that ought to be eliminated. But is it really the case? We need to challenge not just the idea that the truthfulness of a statement can be boiled down and evaluated in ‘Pinocchios’ but also the notion that hypocrisy, mendacity, and ambiguity are ruing our politics”.

The internet seems determined to “fix” these problems, but are they really problems? Will removing hypocrisy, mendacity, and ambiguity from politics (or our lives for that matter) bring the house down on us? Is there a point at which we should consider these traits to be virtues? Or, is defending hypocrisy, mendacity, and ambiguity and saying they are necessary/integral and will never go away akin to saying “the Internet” or “the network” will never go away so we should just deal with it? Is it lazy to think that these “bad qualities” cannot be fixed and say that they are simply integral to our political structure?

Question 4 - (Chapter 3)

In Chapter 3, Morozov uses a "house of mirrors" metaphor to discuss how information gets bounced, highlighted, shaded, and otherwise distorted around the web through aggregation. Have you ever run into situations in which personal data you've posted online has been taken out of context in this way? This could be anything from targeted advertising to a misunderstanding when interacting with another individual online. Can you think of situations in your own life in which this "distorted reflection" would be particularly disadvantageous? Are there any ways in which you are taking precautions against the "house of mirrors" effect — and do you think taking precautions is truly possible?

Response to Question 1
10/19, 2:57pm – Jonathan Lutton

There are clear issues with our internet-centric conception of transparency, wherein we forget the “distinction between transparency as an intrinsic value, as an end in itself, and transparency as an instrumental value, as merely a means to some more important goal, like accountability” (Morozov, 80). Transparency—when viewed as something of intrinsic value—has the capacity to infiltrate every aspect of society whether or not it is of any overall benefit. For example, increased transparency in our political system may encourage representatives to shy away from their own thoughts on a topic towards those which their less knowledgeable constituents demand or see as important (e.g. legalizing marihuana for recreational use). When it comes down to the fact that you won’t hold office much longer without the support of the omniscient public’s support, you’ll cave to the pressures that they impose upon you through transparency. Politicians aren’t the only ones who should worry about the information made available online, and we (the public) are made more knowledgeable of this fact every day. Intrinsically valued transparency allows publicly generated information (with all of its biases and contradictions) to haunt someone far beyond any singular decision they make. You are always being watched, recorded, documented, or filed away at any point in time and your decisions can come back to reflect upon you whenever someone uses a search engine to find your history. The fact of the matter is that transparency, though not entirely detrimental to our society, ignores the fact that individuals are in a state of perpetual flux (continual change) by allowing the circumstantial mistakes of politicians and individuals to be forever available to the public.

There’s no need to “fix transparency,” there’s nothing wrong with it. We need to change the way in which we apply it within society and stop viewing it (as well as “the Internet”) as something that can “fix all of our problems” (a solutionist mindset). The internet cannot come up with its own solution to the problem because it is not capable of producing anything external to what humanity creates within its digital framework. The power of the internet lies in the ways in which humanity chooses to use the machine that it has built, that’s it. If there’s something being created online that is of great worth to the world / humanity, it’s not because “the Internet” caused it to be that way, it’s because there are a lot of driven people in the world who have opted to work together through this online medium and have been successful. In this way the Internet (and transparency) are of instrumental value to humanity—not merely good in and of themselves, but good in their usefulness to humanity. If we use it to collaboratively advance knowledge and create a means of uniting cultures across the globe, then we—not the Internet or our vague notions of “internet freedom” and “intrinsic transparency”—will have accomplished something truly amazing.

Response to Question 2
10/20, 4:07pm – Jonathan Roberts

It seems to me, and perhaps I'm a cynic on a lot of things, that more transparency would only breed more cynicism in the short-term. Do we really want to know what our government does to protect us or what Walmart does to target us with advertising? You can say 'yes' but ultimately those things allow us to remain blissfully unaware and probably less cynical as a result. I try to balance this by realizing that I don't know how many things in the world works (nobody does, everyone specifies to some extent) but try to think about how my actions have effects overall. Even just that realization, though, makes me rather cynical towards technology, etc. I realize that I am just another animal in the marketing wheel that is convinced over and over to buy new shiny technologies like the Macbook I'm typing on and the iPhone that just buzzed by my hand.

When we know more about the inner-workings of things, we tend to become more realistic about them. When we find out inherent weakness or flaws, we become cynical. With many things, it's simply easier to not worry too much about the background information. If you knew where all your food came from exactly, would you still want to eat it? Probably not, although the food you eat is usually safe even if it isn't the most appealing once you learn more about it.

More knowledge certainly means you're more well-rounded concerning the world around you. But that definitely does not equal happiness. Transparency doesn't really mean things will be better. It just means you'll know about them. You'll know what backdoor deals politicians do or what your friends are saying about you. At some point, it seems best to just put your faith in the larger machine and hope that it works for you until it doesn't. When that happens, you can always adapt once more.

Response to Question 2
10/21, 1:20am – Angela Kim

There are different types of people on the Internet. Some are cynics about many issues and some are more accepting. I don't think you can really fix cynicism - the fact that someone is adamant on believing the worst in a politician or an issue makes them stubborn. It's hard to change someone's views unless a greater majority sways the person. In many cases, though, people are firm in their beliefs. I also think that cynicism does not occur all the time - it depends on each issue or situation. Some might be more passionate about an issue, such as Proposition 8, that they would believe the worst in a politician involved even though their record is clean. They'll search for sources that are against that politician and use that source to fuel their own negativity. Doing this makes one ignorant and unable to argue using those unreliable resources. I think we should be able to tell which sites are reliable and which ones aren't. I'd like to think that most of us would accept the fact that there isn't dirt or some conspiracy on a person or event - although we would always have doubt because the Internet is not perfect. We would like to think that there is more that meets the eye, we just don't know it and it's just not on the Internet. In this way, we are cynics and always think of the worst in the back of our minds because we want to. We don't want to face the truth of being wrong or having to accept something we don't want to.

Personally, I'd give up if I couldn't find anything because I think the Internet is a fairly good source. People have a way of finding things out and exploiting them on the Internet for everyone to see. I feel like if there is something going on that we don't know about, it will find its way into the Internet. If I don't know anything, then I don't know anything, and I get over it. I don't religiously Google things just to uncover some hidden information. I agree with Jonathan that it's easier not to worry about the background information. If it doesn't affect us directly, we usually don't really take action or care too much.

I'm not sure what "some other method" means regarding the second to last question. I'm not sure what people would do to advance their cause other than the straightforward methods (protest, advertising, etc.) and manipulating online content, seeing as the Internet is a significant source of communication. I don't know what other method they would use that isn't obviously false or 'dirty.'

Response to Question 2
10/21 Susan Nguyen(?)
Honestly I think most people possess, at the very least, a little bit of cynicism in them (this may be my own coming out) and that their levels of cynicism can vary depending on the issue at hand. That is, people don’t always operate on the same wavelength of cynicism at all times, but they do have some amount within them. I think the more information you have about something and the more “transparent” it is, the more likely you will end up being a cynic about it. If you really want to know about how some bill came to pass or why a corporation chooses to do something, you would be able to discover this if the information was made transparent through use of the internet. However, I would think that you wouldn’t agree with all of the details, even if you were in favor of the end result. By researching more about whatever it is at hand, you’ll only start to uncover some of its underlying faults – maybe my belief that nothing and no one is perfect is a result of my cynicism?

In terms of delving into someone’s personal history and character, I would personally be skeptical if someone’s past, which was made much more transparent, showed nothing negative. Even if I didn’t choose to continue digging until I found something adverse, I would still hold some level of doubt in my mind – this probably stems from whatever sense of cynicism I already have. Since I believe that people are already cynical to some extent, even if they don’t consciously realize it, I think more transparency would only lead to further cynicism.

Response to Questions 2/3/4
10/21, 1:20pm - Alex Lamb
I see all of these topics of cynicism, hypocrisy, mendacity, and ambiguity all related. Because of the hypocrisy, mendacity, and ambiguity that often times plagues the internet, we become cynical. I would argue that we didn't start out that way. Look at the phone, for example. It was originally created for quicker transmission of information and to keep people connected, similar to the Silicon Valley idea of the internet. Once businesses and politicians began to get our telephone numbers and use them for telemarketing scams, we began hesitating and in a way becoming cynical towards our phones. Now that we feel we are targeted and made a statistic with everything we do online, down to the searches we conduct on Google, to the links we click on Facebook, we tend to have a cynical stance on the internet. No one wants to be a statistic or, like Jonathan said, "another animal in the marketing wheel."

There are plenty of situations in which online presence (or lack thereof) could be disadvantageous. Employers now look at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr accounts. Some positions (PR, social media reps, etc.) require a strong social media presence. So being without a Twitter account and working knowledge of hashtags and retweets would be detrimental to your getting hired for that job. Employers are now able to make decisions on whether to offer you a job by looking at your Facebook pictures. Many people are serious and hardworking while in work environments but play hard outside of work. That's normal. It would probably be less normal if you didn't have a crazy night with your friends to wind down every once in a while. But because now that crazy night is documented, and thus "transparent" to employers, it could interfere with your work life and result in you either not getting hired or getting fired because of it. I don't think this is fair, which leads to a little cynicism…therefore, making it a self-perpetuating cycle.

Response to Question 1
10/21, 7:30pm - Hobs Towler
Transparency is, like it or not, a buzzword right now. What that means is that corporations and indeed our governments are doing their very best to highlight and present information to the public that appears to be informing the people about what is “really” going on in the world, while continuing to hide the really brutal and nasty stuff. What people really want, more than transparency, is to open a dialogue between themselves and their entity of choice. This desire for a dialogue is reflected in and perhaps led by the current web 2.0 technologies which allow people to not simply view the web, but also participate in its evolution and growth as users. From this philosophy of participation comes a sense of loyalty, but also of ownership. There’s an expectation from users now that the companies that they buy into and the governments which own them owe them explanations for their actions. Historically, it’s a strange concept that the powers that be are answerable to the people and it’s not without its share of growing pains.

President Obama campaigned on the idea of a transparent government twice and just this year, Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had been spying on everybody for years and treating U.S. citizens as targets and as the enemy. This year was also revelatory in that it has come to light that the U.S. has been authorizing secret drone strikes on its own people, information that the United Nations has been very interested in. Meanwhile, the president has a twitter, and none of these revelations have ever graced it before a scandal arises.

It’s unclear right now what the effects of total transparency will be because, quite frankly, we haven’t experienced it yet. Being content with a half measure—being “half transparent or half accessible”— is not a compromise, it’s a full stop and it’s not the solution, it’s the current reality. There is no true transparency and anyone trying to convince anybody otherwise is lying or selling something worse than the half-truth of transparency.

Response to Question 4
10/21, 10:41pm - Samantha Pedersen
When I used to use Facebook, I was always entertained by the advertisements on the side; none of them ever correlated with anything I was remotely interested to, so I was always curious as to how they came up with what they chose to show me. I played World of Warcraft for a while, so a lot of the advertisements centered on cheaply made free-to-play online games. Google was always a bit more accurate in its advertising; whenever I would shop for shoes or look up a store online, for weeks afterward I would get ad banners from them. I remember one time I looked up rainboots on the Coach website, and for the longest time I had Coach purse advertisements whenever possible. I deleted my Facebook and installed an adblock program, so thankfully I don’t have to see a lot of odd advertising anymore.

I don’t think there are any good ways to avoid the “house of mirrors” effect. I do use Twitter and Tumblr frequently, so I’m assuming if somebody were to look hard enough they’d be able to find me, but I’m not too concerned about either; I don’t share anything I would be embarrassed about. So I guess the best way to avoid the effect would be to think through each thing you post online—once it’s out there, you can’t ever take it back.

Response to Question 1
Matt Gilbert
If we take a look at the world around us, we are surrounded by cynicism. In fact, some may argue that we have to be somewhat cynical in order to achieve success that we wish to have. And in the posts above, it seems like most are in agreement.

Let's take a look at the Government. The individuals that make up the Government constantly struggle with transparency. Corruption begins to set in for the greedy, and many will go to great lengths to save themselves (or their job so to speak). Transparency, simply put, does not really exist. The motivated individual is always looking for ways to move forward. He/she stops for nobody, and at times, ethics and morals are put aside to achieve a certain goal. Do we care? Some of us may say that we do, but I know that for me personally, it is not a priority. I've experienced moments on the internet where I have shopped for shoes or a jacket. On the next website I visit, there it is: an advertisement for the exact same shoes and jacket. I get an eery feeling when I actually sit down and ponder what just happened. How did these two websites link with one another? And how did they join forces so quickly? But, normally I simply disregard the creepy phenomena, because I am solely interested in why I am on the website.

In this world, it is difficult to exercise transparency. Often time, those that do, do not make it far. Unfortunately, selfishness and cynicism seems to take the individual farther in this era.