Let's keep this just between us

Reading this post on Acronym reminds me of a meeting I went to years ago where the speaker kept saying that people could be frank because everything said in the room was "just between us." But I was there, as an invited journalist, to report on the meeting. It was, needless to say, wicked awkward.

Now that the world is blogging and Twittering and otherwise baring every experience in cyberspace, Scott's right, we do need to think about how to balance confidentiality and transparency. In some meetings, people do need to know that what is said will be kept off YouTube--I can think of many circumstances where recording and/or repeating confidential information imparted at a meeting could border on illegal.

A meeting I reported on for a few years included a session that was very closed-door, so people in that industry (a rightfully paranoid industry) could share freely without having to worry about word getting out to their bosses or the public at large. Here's how we handled it: They were told at the beginning that there was a journalist in their midst, and that I would not quote anyone without their express permission. But they also were warned that I was going to write about the general issues they brought up. No one seemed to be fazed at all. And the articles turned out to be pretty interesting, I thought.

I think that the only fair way to handle it these days is to do something similar: Set out the ground rules from the start so everyone knows what's going on and can behave accordingly. Then if someone does cross the line, the wrath of the others will fall upon him/her, and rightfully so.

I worry that if we don't put up some conditions on what should and should not leave the room, meetings will end up being so safe and boring that nothing important is accomplished. Or we can all stop worrying so much and just say what we need to say and let it all land where it may. With so much chatter already on the Web, chances are it'll get lost in the clutter anyway--yeah, right.

While for now we do need to create safe zones in at least meetings, I do foresee a society where we really won't care about confidentiality, where we live our personal and professional lives in the public realm. We're already well on the way. The question is, is that a good thing?

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