I assiduously avoid anything having to do with celebrities. But, all the news that I consume is treating it like a major story, right up there with Putin’s imperialism and ISIS and the endless growth in wealth inequality, so I can’t help but repeatedly hear, or encounter headlines, about the phone photos hack of some celebrities. Which makes me suddenly think of Arthur Clark and Stephen Baxter. (I know, I know, you had the same reaction, right?)
Clark and Baxter’s book, The Light of Other Days, is a fine example of classical SF: a very clever idea with radical implications thought through to the limit of its potential. The idea is that wormhole technology is developed, but wormholes can only be microscopically large. At first this might seem useless, but it turns out one can see through such a hole. This becomes a consumer technology, and soon all of humanity is able to see any event anywhere. And the wormholes can be opened into the past by setting them up in distant space-time locations, so all the past is also visible.
Clark and Baxter work on the implications with brilliance. Society is transformed. For example, most crimes become such that it is impossible to escape justice (just follow the perpetrator home by moving a wormhole to the scene of the crime, watch what happened, and then move the wormhole along behind the villain till he or she is identified). We can sit in on politicians meeting with rich donors, and watch how legalized bribery shapes their activities. We can no longer foolishly romanticize a past where we can see the things our nation actually did. And so on. There are some costs to this radical transparency, but mostly the end result is strangely utopian.
But I wonder. Would enough people care about what votes the politician promised in his meeting with the Koch brothers? Politics is so complicated, and you could spend your wormhole time looking at celebrities in the shower.
In the economy of attention, transparency competes with all the other opportunities to see something new–or rather to see something titillating. Hence, a third of my evening news is about what one woman is doing with her cell phone, time that could and should be spent on something worthwhile, like the situation in Gaza or current economic data or–my god, just about anything else.
Furthermore, transparency is not going to make things easier to grasp. Transparency into a complex situation does not simplify, it merely gives you more data. Much scientific data is transparently available. It doesn’t seem to do anything to improve scientific literacy. We still we have a widespread and seemingly endless faux controversy over global warming.
Citizenship is work, and it requires preparation. (One should really know how basic statistics work, the branches of government, who your Representative is, what “socialism” really means, some history, and so on. What use is transparency when you can’t put the data in context, can’t tell whether the data is representative of the population in question, don’t know how your government makes use of data, don’t know how we got here, etc.?). That all requires a decent education. But we’re living though a time when schools and universities are constantly pressured to become more and more vocational.
But all that is no excuse for me not giving you a Jennifer Lawrence picture. I’m a terrible person. Here’s a unclothed book cover instead. I’m sorry, I know it’s so much less interesting, but it’s all I got.