Extreme Transparency: The New Way We Live

Increasingly everything I do is in public: public posts, public tweets, public pictures, public slideshows.

I was flying to Grand Rapids last week to give a talk at TEDx. The slides were prepared. The words were thought through. But as I tend to do before I present to large groups, I spent the bulk of my flight reviewing the presentation. On landing in Michigan, I was collecting my things when the gentleman behind me tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me, but are you going to present at TEDx Grand Rapids?”


My first reaction–as a New Yorker, was a bit defensive… “Yes, I am, are you going to be there?”

He surprised me by saying no, he hadn’t been able to get a ticket–but he enjoyed my talk. Now I was confused, as I hadn’t given the talk yet. I pointed this out to him–and he explained that he’d watched the slides from over my shoulder on the plane.

Interesting. Was I in public, or in private? Should I be angry that he’d peeked at my slides? Or simply appreciate the compliment that he liked them, and become less concerned about who’s looking over my shoulder?

“Oh, one more thing…” my traveling companion said as we walked down the isle toward the bulkhead door, “there’s a typo on slide 7.”

I checked. Indeed there was a typo. So, once inside the terminal I tweeted:

@magnify May 11, 10:37pm via HootSuite
Arriving in Grand Rapids–guy on plane in seat behind me corrected a typo in my slides for TEDx. Thanks neighbor! #TEDxGR


And a few minutes later–received this response:

@jovoeo May 11, 11:05pm via PockeTwit
NP RT @magnify: Arriving in Grand Rapids–guy on plane in seat behind me corrected a typo in my slides for TEDx. Thanks neighbor! #TEDxGR

Ok, I was stunned–twice. First that increasingly everything I do is in public. Public posts, public tweets, public pictures, public slides. Sitting on a plane–my private slides are in fact public ideas. But then, my tweet to my followers isn’t a closed communication.
And jovoeo, a complete stranger, is now connected to me (and me to him) till one of us decides to unfollow the other. Not for life, but for now–we’re connected.

Once inside–the magic of the TED community took hold and I spent a remarkable day meeting folks and presenting my talk–“The Curation Equation” to 600 engaged individuals in the historic Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. But here too I was both in private and in public–because TEDx Grand Rapids was livestreamed on the web. Within the walls of the theatre I knew how people were reacting to my talk–but beyond the walls, it was hard to know.

Later in the day–as I headed back to the Gerald R. Ford International airport for my flight back to New York, the driver of the car service that had been dispatched to give me a lift to the airport said casually and he put my bags in the trunk; “I enjoyed your talk today.”

I paused for a moment. Was the driver in the theater today? He must have been. “Thanks” I said. “What made you decide to come to TEDx today?” I wondered. “Oh, I didn’t see it in the theatre” he said. “I watched the livestream from the office.”


Wow. Ok. So, my fellow traveler read my powerpoint from behind me on the airplane. And my car service driver watched it live on the web. Certainly my ‘private’ presentation to the TEDx community in Grand Rapids was more public than I ever imagined.

And as each of us discover that we’re living in a world of Extreme Transparency, we’ll need to think carefully about what we share, what we say, and understand that the context of time and place may well be removed from what we say today–when someone finds it on the public web tomorrow, or ten years from now.

I’m not sure that this is a bad thing, it is very much a reality.


About the author

Steven Rosenbaum is an entrepreneur, author, and curator. He is the founder and CEO of the web's largest Video Curation Platform,