Sunday, October 25, 2009

Open Source Human

For all the talk of Open Sourcing, there remains a frontier that few among us are truly prepared to breach. Up to now the concept of Open Sourcing has been applied to the product, but not the producer, to the creation but not the creator. Now it’s time to take Open Sourcing to the radical next step: the step towards realization of the Open Source Human.

It’s always struck me as peculiar that some of those who campaign most vociferously for the freeing up of information are also those who fight to preserve antiquated notions of privacy.


If information truly “wants to be free” why do we impose artificial walls around our personal data?

The simple answer is shame. Privacy is a construct of shame, which is itself a social-religious construct, and one to which we’ve clung too long. We hide our sexual predilections, our medical conditions and our “embarrassing” past. We all have them, and we all know that everyone else has them, so it’s time to bust them out.

I have struggled with shame issues for much of my life, but it was only with the emergence of Social Networking sites that I recognized a pathway out of the darkness of privacy. For too long I have sought refuge in privacy, only to realize that I was running in exactly the wrong direction.

So in the coming months, I plan to roll out an unprecedentedly public display of my most personal data – health records, tax returns, elementary school report cards, etc - here on this blog. The process will take time, partly because of the simple logistics of gathering and organizing this material, but also because of potential legal issues. (I’ve already locked horns with my doctor and several ex-girlfriends over sensitive information).

As radical as this project seems, it’s clear that the time is right. The ways people use social media demonstrate that our human inclination is to share ourselves in every way. Given the slightest degree of remove, such as that afforded by Facebook and Twitter, we instinctively open up, whether with racy photos of ourselves, or heartfelt declarations of love for strangers.

I expect to take a few on the chin for my efforts. Sometimes my personal information will implicate others. I know this might lead to some personal friction with friends, but I also know the value of the project will become so self-evident as to erase ill will.

A lawyer friend has already warned me to expect identity theft on a grand scale. To him I replied “you can’t steal it if I’ve already given it away.”

Secret information is valuable because it is secret. When it’s available for free to all, it’s pretty hard to sell. Just ask Metallica or Lily Allen.

I recognize the irony that, for the time being, I must remain anonymous. Again, this is owing to some legal questions that I am confident will be resolved in short order.

I haven’t settled on what form the collection will take. In the spirit of Open Sourcing I am inclined to gather the data and artefacts in a fully indexed database. In this way, my very existence becomes a shared resource. A doctor, perusing my data might notice that a constellation of symptoms from medical checkups make me a perfect candidate for a drug trial. A marketer might notice that my tastes and inclinations make me ideal for a focus group. The possibilities are limitless.

Imagine what researchers could do with a worldwide database of information of this quality. Unimagined algorithms of human behaviour might suddenly be revealed when, say, we look at academic achievements of Led Zeppelin fans of blood type A are contrasted with type Os who fancy Nana Mouskouri.

Social Media is the true inspiration for this project and – I hope – the vessel that carries these ideas to a broader movement. I believe that the true promise of social media will be squandered if we don’t seize the opportunity to demolish privacy and shame. A massive revelation of “private” data will benefit humanity as an infinite source of knowledge. It will also create a “fog of data” that will obscure our differences and bring into relief our commonality.

Please get the word out. Tweet this, Facebook it for all of us.

When I click POST and this blog entry appears, it no longer belongs to ME, it belongs to US.

Transparency Man