Information, power, and privacy

Information has always been linked to power. There was a time when the ability to control information yielded the ability to hold on to power. There are still nations that control information as a key tool to maintaining the power and control of the government.

I still work with people who feel that information is power and that the restricted control of information is important. People who seem to feel that by holding on to secrets their own position in life is made more secure. They are often intensely private and share little of themselves with the world. For them, information sharing is a threat and the Internet is a threat writ large.

I tend to think that sharing information leads to being a more valuable member of a team, yields the security that the secrecy hawks seek in their darkness. Oversharing is better than undersharing in my world. Share and share freely, live as openly as possible.

I see this in the choices made by FaceBook users. I recently stumbled across the profile of secrecy hawk. Desperately afraid that if anyone else knows how to do what they do they might be replaced, the secrecy hawk hides knowledge by instinct and without second thought. They nail down their privacy settings to such extreme levels that even if one is a friend of a mutual friend, all one can see is:
The secrecy hawk posts no profile picture, hides their friends, reveals only minimal school information from over thirty years ago, and provides no other identifying marks. 

If the secrecy hawk were a minor, then the tightly secured profile would make sense. There is a clear need to protect minors thirteen and older who can join FaceBook but could put themselves at undue risk with an open profile. An adult living on a small island, however, can hardly argue that their profile puts them at personal risk. On a really small island there really is no privacy, everyone will know Monday morning what you did on Friday night, if not even sooner.

Contrast the above "top secret, eyes only" profile to my own profile that can be seen from within FaceBook by people who are not my friend:
I provide a profile image, data on my location, employer, friends, and school information. The way in which one uses FaceBook seems to me to be a reflection of whether one is an information hoarder or information sharer. I share knowledge and I gain power by sharing. 

I am certain sociologists continue to study this transition. Many traditional cultures have structures wherein knowledge is retained as family or clan line secrets, and the power of families, clans, or individuals rests on the retention of that secret knowledge. This may have been the case long enough for knowledge retention to be considered the original norm. If so, then the Internet age is a brave new age where power comes from knowledge shared, not knowledge retained.

This split often, but not always, appears generational, possibly a reflection of the older tradition of family held secrets. In an organization where external agencies require more communication, more sharing, more openness, and where key upper rung positions are held by older employees, the result can be a collision between older information hoarders and younger information sharers. Unfortunately both sides tend to view the other as the cause of the problems. Because both sides start from fundamentally opposite definitions of self-preservation and institutional survival, there is little in the way of middle ground.

How much do you share personally or professionally? What does your profile look like? Have you ever checked?

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