I’ve been thinking and drafting about this for a few days, asking question of friends in person and on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m thus far no closer to a conclusion of this idea and so…I’ve decided instead to turn this blog post into what I hope might be a productive conversation (hey, it worked on my Facebook Wall!)
Here’s the premise: My generation — the Digital Natives, Gen Y — and perhaps the one younger than it views the concept of Wikileaks very differently from older generations. We’ve grown up sharing the intimate details of our lives, we Tweet, we post our location on FourSquare, practically inviting stalkers into our lives…as a result, I believe that we expect more of a radical transparency from others…including our government.
Let’s start with a handy Facebook comparison — the company was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, who was born in 1984, two years after me. He’s a clear digital native, and a true believer in radical transparency, as evidenced by statements like this:
“You have one identity… The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity”
danah boyd (~4 years older than me, but clearly on the cusp of digital nativism) criticizes Zuckerberg’s ideas about transparency as being too out of touch with those outside the privileged class. In a sense, and as I’ve said elsewhere – I agree to an extent. boyd is the expert here, but I do believe she would agree that, by and large, young folks are more likely to “tell all” in public…if only because they grew up with the mechanisms to do so.
I wonder then…if asked, would Mark Zuckerberg apply the same standards he puts upon Facebook users to governments? Would Zuckerberg support Wikileaks, if not in its actuality than in theory? I obviously can’t speak for him, but my guess would be that folks of his–our–generation would generally say yes. Anecdotally, what I’ve seen from my peers, young journalists, and bloggers, is overwhelming support for the idea of Wikileaks, if not the organization itself. Which is not to say there aren’t genuine criticisms–of how and which names were redacted, of Julian Assange himself–but rather, that my generation, globally, by and large views transparency as a good thing.
Wikileaks’ latest release — of a quarter of a million U.S. Embassy cables — is particularly fascinating to look at through the eyes of a digital native. Perhaps more than any other generation, we’ve been raised with this idea of extreme honesty, radical transparency. And what many of the cables reveal is a duality between what is said publicly vs. privately. President Obama has said himself that “[government] openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” Perhaps such transparency and openness can’t be forced — a la Wikileaks — but can and should it exist, and to what degree? Is there room for opacity in government? What about transparency? And will this next generation, the generation just beginning to enter those jobs at State and the Foreign Service, push harder for it?
I’ll leave you with this gem of a quote from Gen Xer James P. Rubin, writing for what is perhaps my least favorite rag, The New Republic:
For better or worse, in many parts of the world there’s a big difference between what government officials are prepared to do publicly and what they’re prepared to say and do privately. We may wish it otherwise, but those are the realities faced by U.S. officials. The hard left, so quick to demand that America accept other countries’ political systems, now seems blind to the fact that other governments want to have the right to say one thing in public and a different thing in private.
Rubin has a point – that is the way things are. But by engaging those realities rather than working against them, is the United States doing the right thing? Is it even doing the American thing?
These are all questions, and to be honest, I haven’t made up my mind. I believe in transparency, and I’ve grown frustrated by what I see as a duality between some of the things my government says and what it does. At the same time, I believe that there are very real risks in what Wikileaks is doing — not the kind of risks Sarah Palin is wailing about, mind you, but risks to activists, advisers, and experts from other nations. Some of the latest leaks, released today, make that rather apparent. But again, in theory, I do believe in a Wikileaksian level of transparency. So where do we go from here?