Stack O’ Books — Sources on Transparency and Privacy. Part Eight

Stack O' Books

Back in the 1950s, Kochen (a mathematician) and Pool (a political scientist) were the first to think about it but couldn’t find a solution without computers. Milgram (a psychologist), aided by White (a physicist-sociologist) and followed by Bernard (an anthropologist) and Killworth (an oceanographer), then attacked the problem empirically but couldn’t explain how it actually worked. Thirty years later, Steve and I (mathematicians) turned the problem into one about networks generally but failed to see its algorithmic component, leaving that door for Jon (a computer scientist) to open. Jon, in turn, left the door open for Mark (a physicist), Peter (a mathematician), and me (now a sociologist of sorts) to walk through and pick up the solution that now seems to have been lying there all along. It’s been a long trail, almost fifty years, and now we think we finally understand the problem, it seems like someone ought to have figured it out long ago. But it had to happen this way. (pp. 160-161)

Six Degrees, by Dunan J. Watts.

Comment: I admit, part of the reason I selected this quote was because it mentioned Fred, and I wanted to show that I’m not the only person who thinks he did some important work. More importantly, however, is the way in which this wonderful story illustrates the essential importance of boundary-spanning and collaboration in knowledge discovery. I spend a fair amount of time on this in the chapter, and while this particular quote didn’t fit into the story I was trying to craft, it supports it nicely, and I wish I could have included it.

Duncan Watts and Dalton Conley discuss Six Degrees of Separation

This new “immune system” may be imperfect … but at least we started noticing some dangers, like ozone depletion and species extinction, long before the trends grew too severe. Passionate advocates and antagonists swarm around each problem, hollering so loud we can’t ignore the peril, even when we squeeze our eyes shut and hope it goes away. This trend is especially important given society’s growing complexity and the rapid pace of change. Science and technology must progress swiftly, in order to offer any hope of solving the world’s problems. Still, with every advance, new questions and dilemmas burst forth to confound even a culture filled with large numbers of college graduates. As the recent furor over human cloning showed, it takes time for people to listen, argue among themselves, overreact, learn some more, and finally start making the sort of practical, as we go decisions that may (with luck) take us into the twenty-first century in fairly decent shape. (pp. 142-143)

The irony here is that our relative immunity against fallacy is in large part carried out via the adversarial tug and push of countless indignant, righteous, and often narrow-minded individuals, many of whome would be anything but tolerant or democratically inclined if by some magic or intrigue they ever achieved coercive power. The service they provide for the rest of us — the calm, relatively contented majority — cannot be overstated. (p. 143)

The Transparent Society, by David Brin.

Comment: For me, choosing quotes from this book is almost impossible. My first copy is studded with little shreds of torn paper marking places where David said something especially important. I agonized over the quotes to include in the book chapter, because I had limited space and many voices to include. I was trying so hard to give equal space to both sides of the debate, when what I wanted to do was just hand people copies of David’s book and make them read it. It was so hard for me to think of anything unique that I could bring to the conversation. I tried anyway.

The first time I met David was when he was on tour for this important book, having fought with his reluctant publishers to get it out in print. He spoke on campus in a rather unusual and elegant room in the UM Law School, a room which reminded me of a church in some ways. We chatted afterwards, and have stayed in touch over the years through various social media.

This was the most important book for me while I was working on my chapter. I bought extra copies of it, so that I would have access to it in many places without needing to depend on carrying it around with me. Then I carried it around anyway. David is quoted in my chapter several times, but not as many as I wanted.

This book is beyond being a must-read on the topic. After the book had been out for a few years, reviewers started to denigrate it based on its age, saying things like, “Surprisingly relevant, given how dated it is.” I always want to blow raspberries when I hear things like that. This book has at no point since publication been anything less than the most important work available on the topic of the dynamics of transparency and privacy in our evolving society. READ THIS! There are others that go into specific aspects in more depth, but I know of no other single work that does such a brilliant job of tersely describing the issues, trends, risks and benefits of various scenarios. (Not to mention that David studs the book with little gems of quotations from other writers, giving you clues about who else to read to extend your reading in this area.) David himself does take this to the next level with his new fiction masterpiece, Existence, which places many of these core concepts in story form for easy digestion. Read both!

The Transparent Society: Secrecy vs. Privacy, Part 1

The Transparent Society: Secrecy vs. Privacy, Part 2



One response to “Stack O’ Books — Sources on Transparency and Privacy. Part Eight

  1. Pingback: Stack O’ Books — Sources on Transparency and Privacy, All | Emerging Technologies Librarian

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