Book Review: The Transparent Society by David Brin

This book is a bit of a departure for my Free Software Magazine book reviews, it's a philosophical and social essay by science-fiction writer David Brin, and it's over 13 years old (published in 1998). But as I am reading this now, I'm struck by how prophetic this book is towards events that are going on in the world today.

A central idea of the book is that "privacy" -- at least in public places -- is a thing of the past. There are plenty of people who've made that point, though. The difference is what Brin says we ought to do about it -- which is to embrace it, instead of running away from it.

And then... to demand reciprocity.

Brin argues quite effectively that trying to shut off the flow of information is a hopeless and doomed cause. All it will do in practice is to ensure that only the wealthy and powerful have access to the tools to surveil us all.

Instead, Brin suggests that we accept the ubiquitous cloud of electronic eyes and sensors, but that we also demand democratic and free access to the controls behind the cameras and the information that comes from them. In other words, the problem is not the volume of the flow of information itself, but the assymmetry -- the tendency for information to be horded by the powerful and refused to citizens.

He suggests that the best way to rein in power is for us all to "watch the watchers". Reading it, I'm reminded of the power of cell phone cameras and the issues with recording police and other authorities in the course of their duties -- something that has become a major issue today.

The book touches on free software only in that he does question the concept of "intellectual property" and "copyright" and whether they can survive in the age of the internet.

It's an interesting read.

In short:

Title The Transparent Society
Author David Brin
Publisher Addison-Wesley
ISBN 0-201-32802-X
Year 1998
Pages 378
CD included No
FS Oriented 4
Over all score 8


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.