We are into a new age – the age of transparency – when all things shall be known to all people. This became obvious a couple of weeks ago when President Obama caught unshirted hell from the news media after he played a round of golf in Florida with Tiger Woods.
The president and Woods apparently agreed they preferred not to have news media people tagging along, to observe every drive, approach shot and putt. That’s understandable. Anyone who plays golf knows the need for absolute concentration and freedom from distraction. And questioning: “Mr. President, how did you feel when you landed in a sand trap for the seventh time? How can you justify the use of a five iron when you were only 50 yards from the pin? Did you discuss foreign policy with Tiger? Does he approve of your immigration program?”
Although some of the reporters may have sympathized with Obama’s declaring his golf round off-limits to the media, others protested. Their rationale: whatever Obama (or any of his top people) do should be subject to news coverage. After all, didn’t Obama himself promise full transparency, once he entered the White House? Indeed he did. Now he has lived to regret it.
Government is not the only place where transparency is demanded, or will be. Big business is increasingly pressured to tell the public exactly what is going on behind corporate closed doors. The law may not require it, but the ever-nosy citizenry would like to know not only the major decisions a company makes (or is thinking of making) but also the cozy details of a company’s day-to-day life style. Is the CEO a really nice person? How many stalls are in the average women’s rest rooms?
An extreme example of the drive for total transparency is the cyber warfare being practiced by the USA and China. Both countries today maintain thousands of hackers and other computer experts who try – and often succeed – to extract governmental and business secrets from one another. This might be called involuntary transparency.
What if the tables were turned, and news media were required to be fully transparent in how they operate? I’m sure the New York Times and CNN officials would be delighted to tape record the staff deliberations that precede decisions on which stories get top billing and which ones are relegated to the also-ran or forget-about-it category.
I can visualize the day when Peeping Toms are no longer subject to arrest and prosecution. “Your honor, when I climbed the maple tree outside Ms. Honkley’s apartment as she disrobed and stepped into the shower, I was only trying to achieve the goal of greater transparency that the American people believe in.”
The social media are prime examples of transparency lifted to high (or low) levels. Take a stroll through Facebook or Twitter files and you’ll see what I mean. Although many of the postings show thoughtfulness and good sense, the vast majority of the messages constitute a huge mental, emotional and spiritual garbage dump by persons who not only worship transparency but who are determined that the innermost workings of their minds will be revealed to the universe. They seem to never have been exposed to the danger and distastefulness of TMI – too much information – that moment when self-honesty crosses over the line into for God’s sake Suzie please just shut up.
The trickiest areas for the practice of transparency and full disclosure are marriage and other forms of human relationships. Marriage counselors usually stress the importance of honesty and trust between partners. But the limitations to such advice can suddenly and painfully become obvious. Everyone’s life contains chapters and episodes that, while not being illegal or shameful, nevertheless are best kept buried. The same holds true for the transient daily emotions that travel through our minds. If these all were spoken aloud, in the name of transparency, outrage and disappointment would flood our lives. Who among us really wants to know everything about everyone, especially those persons we are closest to? A wise man (or it could have been a woman) once said, “Where there is no mystery, there is no charm.”
I am jotting down notes for this column while sitting in a coffee shop served by a middle-aged lady who, while dishing out coffee and doughnuts, is regaling her workmates (and anyone else within earshot) with an account of every thought, deed and personal encounter she has experienced during the past 24 to 48 hours. To me, she is a quintessential example of total transparency. If she were the president of the United States out for a round of golf, the news media would gobble her up.
Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send him an email at email@example.com.