by Manon Michelle Monhemius
Trust is the base of our interactions. Between people, but also between us and the companies whose services we use. In-person, and online. How is technology changing who we trust?
This is the question Rachel Botsman, world-renowned expert on trust and technology, is looking to answer. I have been following Botsman through her studies and presentations since I got involved with the collaborative economy around nine years ago. She has written an influential book on the rise of collaborative consumption and has been focusing her recent writing on the topic of trust and technology.
Botsman’s defines trust as ‘a confident relationship with the unknown.’ To move from something you know to something you don’t know is a what she calls a ‘trust leap.’ As we face uncertainty the only thing we can do is to trust. In her presentations across the globe, Botsman provides an example of a this by showing a video of a woman sitting in a self-driving car for the first time. The woman is incredibly scared that it might kill her, and yet the only thing she can do is trust in the technology and trust in the people who made the car. Other examples of a trust leap could include eating at a restaurant, trusting that the food won’t make you sick, or having a first date and trusting that the person will treat you well.
One thing that Rachel notes is that there is a common misconception that often gets in the way of trust; transparency. Many are led to believe that if everyone were just more transparent then everything would be easier. ‘If we need things to be transparent, then we have given up on trust,’ she states. If things are transparent, then they are not 'unknown', and trust is no longer needed. They are not interdependent. In the case of transparency, we have an understanding of what we get ourselves into, but in the case of something unknown we need to trust.
Botsman says that in order for something to be trusted, whether you’re talking about individuals, companies or governments, we have to apply a formula of trustworthiness. This formula consists of the four traits of trustworthiness. There are two capability traits, competence and reliability, and two character traits, integrity and empathy.
Capability – do you have what is needed to make happen what you’ve promised?
Reliability – can people depend on you? This regards response time and consistent behavior over time.
Empathy (benevolence) - do people feel that you care?
Integrity - are your intentions and those of others aligned?
In the world of technology, intentions are often not aligned and this exacerbates mistrust in our fast-paced environment. In society today we order products online, have food delivered and look for romantic partners with an ever-present sense of urgency. Before technology, we had time to develop relationships with the owners of businesses where we bought our groceries and we heard from neighbors if they had good experiences with these businesses. Today we often don’t take the same amount of time before making a decision and instead we rely other mechanisms. Ratings, reviews, having Facebook friends in common are signifiers of trustworthiness; we now develop trust because others have done so first.
What I learned from Botsman has caused me to think about how, with this knowledge, we might influence trust more. How do we inspire trust in (technology) companies, for example, but also how do we use technology to (re)build trust in geographical areas where it has broken down? Especially regarding younger people, who are more active online.
I would love to hear your ideas on this; how could we, with the Trustbuilding Program, use our online channels to their full trustbuilding potential? How can we go beyond just sharing our work online, and use our channels as an active extension of our trustbuilding efforts? You can write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All graphics by Rachel Botsman
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The Trustbuilding Program is aimed at addressing divisive issues at the international and national levels, on the premise that only those who have undergone the internal process of becoming trustworthy themselves can close gaps across the globe. The Program was launched by Initiatives of Change International in 2019 with projects in Kenya, Canada and France.