Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Web: Blind Spot Removal?

I watched Clay Shirky promote his new book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations on Colbert this week. Here's basically what he said: As a communications channel the web is credited with bringing media access to non-media elites. It is the soap box that doesn't depend on the timbre of your voice or the size of your budget. Ask the blogger in the street and you will hear how we've rifled past staple guns, leaflets, and petitions. We're no longer captive audiences awaiting the judgements of vested opinions.

I admire Shirky and his heretical views towards organized and disorganized classification systems. I'm mostly in agreement about the Smart Mobs mantra and the inclusiveness of our media climate changes:

* opt-in when you want to join
* publish when you clear your throat
* disband when the center does not hold

But if the web has found its voice through blogging where can we find its ears? There are equal opportunities for attentive snoops to pick up on signals not evident to less astute listeners.

The answer that inspires me is the Emotionality of Privacy. Written in 1997 in the ASIS&T Journal by Barbara Flood. Flood's theory is that privacy is based on belief that "big" trust can only be conferred in "small" situations:
Families are tied together by information about members. Friendships exchange personal information and cede a certain amount of privacy. The larger the social aggregate, however, the less the individual is willing to sacrifice privacy and the more the individual needs to retain privacy in order to maintain a sense of self.
Political figures surrender this right the moment they announce their candidacies. But what about the rest of us?

What we decide to put out there on the web bears only passing reference to the stage-managed profile we would have our web snoops first come to know about us. (Remember that's assuming the total stranger is completely positive we've been accurately identified). Of course agents of control like my LinkedIn profile is a world of perception removed from what my computer reveals about how I use it. These are the awards, achievements, and even endorsements that we display in our virtual trophy cases. But less invasive than a government sting or a virtual surveillance ring is the far greater probability that our blind spots are out there. There for the taking.

Blind spots are the unknown unknowns to us that are known to others. As Donald Rumsfeld famously gandered in the most revealing press conference held during two Bush terms, "there are the ones we don’t know we don’t know." In the case of the missing OMD he could not have been more candid!

Ms. Flood's framework for describing the blind zone is the Johari Window:

* What's known to others and not known to others
* What's known to the self both publicly and privately
* What's not known to the self through the blind self or the unknown self (subconscious)

The goal of any effective researcher is to focus on the blind self. The blind self contains our respective zones of ignorance (the impact my actions have on you beyond my own awareness). It is the world of former colleagues, spouses, and witnesses on the scenes of past wreckages -- the outcomes that don't find their way to the trophy case. On the web our delusions, supressions, misguided faith, willful ignorance, and past admissions of guilt are now open to question if not actual publication. We would be well served to self-educate and research our own vulnerabilities before we cast our investigative nets out to others.

1 comment:

Madeleine Van Hecke said...

Great post - I agree that blogging gives people a chance to express themselves - with the unintended consequence of revealing not only our wit and insights but our foibles and blind spots. So as you say, those blind spots are there for the taking, and readers can, of course, detect them and comment on them. I also agree that it would be good to self-educate and discover our own blind spots - but one way to do that is through these same blogs. The people most likely to see what we miss are people who are very different from us - people we might not rub shoulders with in our day to day lives. Those readers have a lot to teach us in their responses to our blogs (though sometimes it's hard to hear the truth of what they say because we're deafened by their insults, sarcasm, etc.) Nonetheless,they could be effective if ruthless teachers to help us overcome our own blind spots. Thanks for a thought-provoking message.

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