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What if there were no secrets?
Mar 6, 2004, 3:30p

What if there were no secrets?

No national secrets, no corporate secrets, no personal secrets.

How would the world be different? I can't even begin to imagine what such a world would be like. Everyone would be able to know the US president's international agenda; everyone would be able to know what new products Microsoft and Apple had planned; everyone would be able to know what their brother was doing at any given moment.

Maybe you wouldn't be able to know what a person thought inside their own head, because there would still need to be some maintenance of privacy. Lord knows that if you could hear other people's thoughts, the current world order would probably break down. So how about instead everything that was ever spoken was made available for everyone to hear. One concern would be that a lot of friendships would be destroyed, but I would expect the friendships that survived to be more stable and devout. Plus, maybe mutual disparaging every once in a while is healthy, and the knowledge that your friend was also doing it would strengthen the friendship.

Overall, I think the world would be a better place if there was more honesty. How much time and energy do we expend concealing and deceiving others? I guess the real difficulty with an "Everything spoken is available" system is that there would be greater self-censorship as people began to be more careful of what they said. This may actually not be too different from today, where certain celebrities words are frequently recorded and distributed.

I guess surprise birthdays would also suffer. But perhaps the birthday person would instead have the opportunity to exercise restraint and not ask the question. It would be like Christmas, where, even as the presents collect under the tree days before Christmas, you still wait to open them. Each piece of knowledge is a wrapped present, and whether and when you open it is your choice. Of course, there would be an infinity of presents.

This would be "Freedom of Information" taken to an extreme. I wonder how people would work differently if their top secret project was no longer top secret. Would they work harder, knowing that their competitors knew what they were doing, and were also working harder? Or would they work less, because they knew that whenever they released their product, their competitors would be out with the same product soon after? Would the incentives to work hard be as powerful? If you were working on something your friends wanted to use and they kept asking you about it, you may work harder, but probably not.

Imagine entering into a negotiation where all parties' motives were well-known and clear, at least as clear as they were to the party itself? Ideally, this is how most negotiations should work, but most often people get bogged down in trying to hide information and obfuscate the truth.

Then there is the question of, ok, so what if all information is available, how do I know which is the truth? Determining facts would be the next challenge, and it would have to based on the reputation and position of the source of the information. Today most people will trust what the New York Times reports than what a small local paper does. But in this new world, all "reporting" would be equal, as every individual's voice would pierce through to every listener.

People might then alter their words to get the opposite information, disinformation, out to distract people, while keeping the truth in their heads. But I guess this is always a risk, even in today's information distribution system.

Anyhow, I think this is an interesting thought. How would the world be different if there were no secrets?

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