Sunday, 24 May 2009

"Who are we to throw stones when Google moves us all into glass towns?"

One of the consequences of the transparency and openness that has come through the Internet is that we have to live with our indiscretions and embarrassments more than any other generation. The searchability that Google provides combined with the elephant-like qualities of terabytes of storage mean that it is likely that we will have to live with episodes we would rather forget for the rest of our lives.

Given the events in Westminster during the past fortnight, this increased openness and the transparency has huge implications for those who hold public office. It is reassuring that the MPs at the trough are getting what they deserve and it is equally pleasing that the Daily Telegraph has published lists of "saints" who have not abused the system, However, I am concerned that the next generation of politicians is likely to be far too grey. If, even in the world of old fashioned cheque-book journalism, our elected representatives are finding that they are more accountable than ever before; how much more will the next generation of politicians be scrutinised?

After two weeks of the Daily Telegraph's revelations, we now know that many of our politicians are human and have feet of clay, but let me strike a note of caution before we take the high moral ground. "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone." To a greater or lesser extent Google has moved us to living in glass towns. We are all human; and it is a normative human experience to make mistakes and to do things of which we are ashamed or embarrassed. I have a huge sympathy with David Weinberger when he said
"An age of transparency must be an age of forgiveness."
I have no problem with our public officials being held to account for how they conduct themselves in office, but my fear is that the most able will be put off running for public office lest the indiscretions of their youth or in their private lives be splashed across news sites - and that will not be good for democracy and good government.

[Title quote from Jeff Jarvis WWGD? 2009 p.232]

1 comment:

  1. It's along the lines of what Dan Ariely says - given the opportunity, I'm sure many people out there would do the same things that these MP's did. It doesn't make them bad people - it's just human nature and how we have all changed as a result of this information age.

    I saw that on of the MPs used expenses to fund a glitter toilet. Another used some money for a BBQ.

    Are you telling me that other people in other fields have not "stretched" their expenses accounts a bit? If people think so, than they are sadly mistaken.