Is the wealth of information available online eliminating the need for people to trust one another?
Prior to the advent of the world wide web, settling bets was not always an exact science. In many cases resolving a trivial dispute involved phoning an impartial, knowledgeable friend who knew everything there was to know about sports, movies, geography or the like and both sides would have to trust what that source had to say. Today, that knowledgeable friend is the internet. In these situations, and many others, the ease of access and the sheer volume of information available on the internet sees people foregoing the arduous task of building trust with each other in favour of the web.
Trusting another person can be an in-depth, socially and mentally demanding risk. On the other hand, trusting information garnered from established websites such as the Internet Movie Database or ESPN, while still fallible, doesn’t require any social interaction or personal investment. This trend is very much akin to the way email and text messaging has reduced the need for direct conversation. Though rife with misunderstandings and auto-correct disasters, it is still preferable for many — because it’s quick, easy and can avoid time-consuming, unwanted and sometimes awkward social interaction.
This dwindling of trust in those around us isn’t restricted to resolving sports or movie trivia disputes. Thanks to the expansion of the internet into the realm of personal information, it permeates a great number of aspects of our lives. Prospective employers need not trust a candidate, their resume, or even their references; sites including Facebook, LinkedIn, Workopolis, Klout and Twitter as well as industry specific sites can tell them all they need to know in order to make a decision, regardless of what a candidate may relate in person.
Trust in romantic situations has been affected as well. Many a first date sees trust deferred, at least until statements (and marital status) can be verified through an obligatory post-date Facebook stalking. Sync editor, Simon Cohen, related the trend to a phrase made famous by U.S. president Ronald Reagan who cautioned those around him to “Trust, but verify”, and much like that tawdry fortune cookie amendment, we need simply to add “on the internet” to update Reagan’s advice to reflect the state of affairs today.
“Trust, but verify” -Ronald Reagan, Russian Proverb
The obvious irony is that everything online is generated by people, both as knowledgeable - and error prone – as those around us, the difference being that we don’t know them personally and facts can be taken at face value with no social repercussions if they turn out to be inaccurate.
Of course there are situations where trust in our fellow human being is unavoidable, just ask anyone whose undergone major surgery or who rides two-up on a motorcycle. Though even in these cases the level of trust required can be mediated by, you guessed it, some research online to quell fears. It’s tempting to pass off this movement away from interpersonal trust as only relating to unimportant things, but trust is something that is built; if we stop trusting each other in regards to seemingly small things, be it sports trivia, a restaurant review, or driving directions we run the risk of eliminating the building blocks that lead to absolute trust in our fellow human beings — but don’t take my word for it.
Do you think that the internet is eliminating the need for us to trust those around us?