Who to trust when we all bowl alone?

Jon Udell picks up on Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone

_“If he’s right, the flowering of online community that we see all around us may be part of a very large historical pattern. As a culture, we may be sensing a deficiency of social capital, and creating new institutions — appropriate to our time and our technology — to remedy the problem. Putnam’s thesis may be read as a requirements specification for online communities

A corollary to the sharp decline of social capital in our generation, by the way, is a sharp rise in the number of lawyers per capita. Fifty years ago, Americans thought that most people were trustworthy. Today most think the reverse. Lawyering flourishes, says Putnam, because it is the “production and sale of synthetic trust.”

Interesting. For years I have interacted online with people I have never met face-to-face, and may never meet. Yet I trust them..”_

“Trust” seems to be a current meme – it’s the theme of this year’s Reith Lectures by Onora O’Neill. In lecture 1 she was asked

“So what happens to trust when you have a technology such as the internet that de-centres institutional validity?” and replied “…But I think it’s going to be very difficult to achieve a culture of accountability of a reasoned sort in different parts of society, and I think the internet, as you rightly say, is going to be one of the hardest of all. At the moment yes, I think it’s like buying snake oil. ”

In the summary of the (not yet broadcast) 4th lecture you can read

“Transparency may destroy secrecy, but there is little reason to think that it destroys the real enemy of trust: deception. Those who set out to deceive the public may even be helped by over-emphasising the value of transparency. There is a downside to technologies that allow us to circulate and recirculate vast quantities of ‘information’ that is harder and harder to sort, let alone to verify.”

So how do we learn to sort what we can trust from what we can’t? Surely this is where increasingly easy-to-use news aggregators and related technologies come to the fore by making it easy to compare many different sources of a story. And is there a need for another tool that will map the sources of those feeds? (after all, how many blogs can you read where an item has actually come from one source via multiple routes?)

Julian Elve
Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change

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