Your fetishes will be exposed, says Brian Stelter in the New York Times this week. Your hoaxes will be outed. Your secrets will be laid bare. The Interweb's combination of ruthless inquisitiveness and infinite access to information will reveal you if you are a fraud, exonerate you if you are a hero, let your cream of wheat rise to the top and leave your chaff by the wayside.
Lesbian bloggers will be revealed to be middle-aged men. Kissing couples will be tracked down and identified. Pictures of weiners will be traced to their owners.
Right now, these things are happening with enough infrequency that we find them shocking. "What? He sexted? I can't believe it!" But what happens when the relentless march of transparency reveals that the majority of us are engaging in shocking behavior?
What happens, for example, when we learn that 60% of people smoke pot on a casual basis? Do we legalize or prosecute? What happens when 80% of politicians are embroiled in sex scandals? Do we wipe the slate clean and reboot government with all new players -- all, of course, equally human and equally likely to fall prey to the same temptations of iniquity?
I used to be a fanatic follower of the Tour de France, until one too many doping scandals eradicated the last of my respect for -- and the last of my trust in -- the riders. This is the cycle of scandal: from trust, to betrayal, to shock, to forgiveness, to betrayal again, to feelings of stupidity, to cynicism, to apathy.
And with enough reference cases, we extrapolate our mistrust to the entire population. I now have no faith in the blood purity of Tour cyclists, whether or not they have ever been under suspicion. I am not surprised at all when people in power are outed for infidelity; in fact, I can't believe any of us are, or that it's even a story. ("South Park"'s Trey Parker and Matt Stone can't believe it either, judging by the politically incorrect "Sexual Healing" episode.)
Add to this the fact that the availability of additional information often has little bearing on how factually informed we are. As of last August, nearly 20% of Americans believed President Obama was a Muslim. The Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space with the naked eye. And lemmings are not suicidal (but Disney filmmakers are evidently lemming-cidal).
My hope and belief is always this: that greater transparency creates the conditions for transformation, that if we can see each other clearly, we can better understand each other and, in so doing, create a better world. Longfellow said, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm any hostility."
But the very grave danger we face is that increased transparency just leads to increased noise and therefore increased confusion - and that an infinitude of conflicting information simply drives us to not trust any information. That the more the foundation of our trust is excavated, the less informed we feel, and the less informed we are.
There are those among us who will respond to the demise of privacy by doing the right thing. There are those who will use the transparency offered by the Internet to bring injustices to light and wrongs to right. And there are those who will not. Because, at the end of it all, the Internet makes us neither smart nor moral. That, my friends, is up to us.