As with much of the digital world, corporate transparency is greater now than it ever has been. Witness yesterday’s Adobe Analyst Meeting – a closed door, invite-only industry event at which analysts of all stripes were treated to Adobe’s financial strategy for the year to come. Within those exclusive walls, many industry agents were typing away on laptops and mobiles but they weren’t just live-blogging or recording notes for a report or article to be edited by their gatekeepers and published later. They were also broadcasting SMS messages to the masses in real-time through Twitter, micro-blogging their instantaneous thoughts, reactions, and sub-channel conversations to thousands of vicarious third-parties.
These raw feeds are perhaps a much more accurate representation of such events – or at least constitute a valuable nuance to the conversation – but their true merit is in their subversive tunneling to freedom through the garden walls, broadcast to the masses. I was annoyed that I couldn’t attend my own company’s briefing but then I got a lot of the meat from trolling the analyst tweets. This raises numerous issues. Should the company defend the tower and let me get the info second-hand through the emotional filters and bullshit detectors of the invitees? Or is it in their interest to include me and the rest of the public so they can at least have a better bet at controlling the message? Is there value in creating such walled gardens in the first place if anyone can breech your security with a simple 140 character message? Is it cost-effective? Do companies impose checkpoints to remove potentially threatening mobile devices? Can you trust people to stick to the talking points or do you allow that the genie is out of the bottle and the natural process of selection will actually help your company do a better job? Transparency and democratized digital broadcast is crowdsourced quality control. It’s a natural feedback mechanism for regulating the evolution of ideas.
These days, if an exclusionary body refuses to share beyond the in-crowd, at least one of those insiders will probably share it with the world. Information is free and the closed companies see their brand suffer as they try in vain to crush the dissenters on a global and very public stage. Their insular reporting hierarchies inevitably ensure that the same ideas and strategies eventually become recycled again and again, and that the truth is filtered through the instinct of self-preservation. Secrecy is like evolution in a vacuum or asexual reproduction. There is little pressure for real change beyond the cold, hard truth of the quarterly earnings report.
Is it even possible to keep secrets anymore? Do you remember all the conspiracy theories you read about in college? Have you noticed that most of them have now been recorded as historical fact? Have you considered that within 10 years the majority of elected officials will have public digital paper trails stretching across the fabled Information Superhighway? And there will be bands of saavy developers eager to crunch the data from those paper trails and render them in pretty visualizations that really show just exactly how honorable/charitable/pious/two-faced/depraved your future senator really is.
Even the analysts are known, willingly opting in to the public timeline of Twitter. All of their names are published at Sage Circle for anyone to see and follow. In fact, in order to really productively use many of the new open social tools & services, the user is highly incentivised to opt-in to their own public transparency. Everyone who wants to speak with power enough to reach the masses (or at least a few handfuls of them) must embrace the open platform. And if you’re professional, you need to use your real name. Therein lies the rub: to be competitive businesses need to have their product managers, their evangelists, their analysts, idea makers and trend-setters all dialed in to the social web. Communication and sharing and an openness to take feedback from your users is becoming crucial for the corporate body to humanize and interact with the eyes of the world. Effective product development must include the people buying your product, otherwise you end up designing for imagined ghosts. Hence, the increasing migration of analysts and audiences to Twitter. Then as a company you end up with your intelligence agents working for you but writing to their audience. And you have an empowered audience that’s publicly-yet-privately back-channeling their loathing of your corporate shill right in front of them, like the now legendary and immediately ground-breaking SXSW smackdown of Tara Hunt.
Like journalists, analysts are no longer totally bound by an allegiance to their lords nor to the companies they scrutinize. They become like moonlighting Ronin. They broadcast to the world from a niche stardom and semi-famous personhood that carefully (or not-so-carefully) balances the party line and the ratings of the viewers. In the face of even limited fame and empowerment, how does company loyalty measure up to increased outsourcing and diminishing employee perks? All life, it seems, will bend towards the viewership, simultaneously revealed and true, yet inevitably influenced and state-shifted by 5 or 6 billion eyes and the inescapable quantal fact of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty. In a totally measured and watched world, is Truth just a state of observation, a sufficiently-probable collapsing of the waveform undergoing the formality of actually occuring, to paraphrase McKenna quoting Whitehead. The soul becomes visible as the mind manifests to all eyes.
Information – Truth, whether it exists fundamentally or is just a state of mind – indeed wants to be free and this fundamental law works through the human species and the technologies we extrude. We are still animals and our tools must help us adapt and thrive. This is more clear now than ever as our actions leave deeper and deeper footprints across the digital terrain we walk. We are being recorded and we are recording, capturing more and more facets of our human experiment written onto spinning platters like prayer wheels in the virtual breeze. The New Journalism will find even the most exclusive events, the narrowest niches, the darkest secrets and the most banal subcultures and capture them, radiating out to the digital world into the very Akashic Record of Our Times. Life is the new media, rich in all it’s texture, drama, subterfuge, and transcendence. As the military struggles with soldier bloggers, embedded third-party reporters, wired insurgencies, and the ever-present satt feeds waving down from far up above with just a passing glint of sunlight, the injustices and atrocities wrought by man & machine are cataloged equally alongside silly cat pictures, personal bios, frat videos, copyright violations, knowledge wiki’s, satellite imagery, and reams & reams of pornography. All acts are caught and surveyed by the one unblinking eye, like Sauron or the Illuminati or the gaze of God.
The world is getting much smaller and simultaneously incredibly huge and diverse. Global instability will be balanced by local resilience, and hierarchical corruption will struggle against networked transparency. CCTV’s will merge with YouTube & reality TV and life will reveal itself on a scale never before known. The cloud is breaking out of the browser and out of our servers spreading to mobile devices and HUD overlays, objects & artifacts. Reality will be radically augmented, participatory, and unbounded. We will fragment and unite, solve et coagula. And tweeting as we go, televising & recording the revolution for all to witness.