In the book The Transparent Society (1992), Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo says, “All things are reduced to the level of pure presences that can be measured, manipulated, replaced, and therefore easily dominated and organized—and in the end man, his interiority and historicity are all reduced to the same level.” In a similarly titled book, The Transparency Society (2017), Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han reaches the same reductive conclusion: “The transparent society is a hell of the same.” 

Transparency leads to predictability. It’s a society that trims everything risky, chaotic, turbulent, or different to look the same. Such a society is characterized by its smoothness and a desire to make everything clean and neat, as Han writes in Saving Beauty (2018) when he detects this smoothness in artist Jeff Koons’s sculptures, as well as in iPhones and Brazilian waxing.

Still, regardless of these less encouraging descriptions of transparency, the general understanding of it is overtly positive. Uncritically, many people ask for more transparency when problems emerge. “The more transparent, the better” seems to be the mantra. For this reason alone, I think we need to reflect a bit more on the concept. 

Read the entire essay in Erracticus