Welcome to blog post number 1. I figured: why ease my way in to this blogging malarkey when I can jump straight in at the deep end? With…. Trust issues.
Trust is a concept I have been pondering a lot recently, when I realised that my sense of trust is built on more than just my immediate relationships, but how I connect to the world around me in the 360-degree holistic sense. So, to start with the one thing I know for sure….
We all have trust issues.
At a societal level, we have trust issues with the government, traditional media, fake news; at a personal level, technology is driving a wedge in our close relationships: dating apps make it easier to cheat, social media keeps us ever connected but ever separated. So how do we live with this vulnerability and find real trust in one another?
In Emma Gannon’s book “The Multi-Hyphen Method”, she argues that society has seen a shift in trust in the early 2000s “from ‘trusting the media’ to ‘trusting people like yourself’” and then to “blog recommendations over TV adverts”. But, she argues, this trust has evolved once again. We no longer trust governments or traditional media, and we are increasingly looking to friends and family for direction.
I would take this a step further: as our friends and family share the products they like on Instagram, many around us rise to become ‘influencers’. These influencers feel more trustworthy. We follow them because we relate to them – we see their fashion, their background, their lifestyles and we gain positive inspiration for our own lives. As these influencers gain fans and followers, they catch the attention of brands who are willing to pay them to promote their products. This enables us to have a real conversation on our own terms, not with a pushy salesperson, but a real-life human being to whom we have no obligation…. We tell ourselves that we could just as easily ‘unfollow’….
But there is a more sinister side…
As consumers, we have long become wary of big corporations pushing their products onto us. According to Marketing Week, almost of half of Brits actively ignore ads, and according to Forbes, 49% of people will disregard a brand if it bombards them with ads; in other words, if they are interrupted. The days of Don Draper creating a billboard ad that appeals to your latent desire to buy branded wash powder seem primitive in comparison to the mind manipulation we are experiencing today. Back in 2014, Facebook was conducting experiments into emotional manipulation by changing the content of users’ news feeds. By some estimates we are exposed to over 10,000 ads per day; but whilst back in the Mad Men era of the 1960s, a television or radio advert could clearly be identified as such, today these ads may take the form of product placement or influencer marketing, which is infinitely less easily distinguishable to the untrained eye.
Let’s pause here before we continue, because I believe that there is a more positive side to this too. I want to take a moment to make the case in favour of influencer marketing. My point in writing this post is not that corporations are the work of the devil (for one thing as I work in marketing for a Fortune 500, it would make me a hypocrite), nor that influencers are sly, shallow, self-interested brand promoters. Quite the opposite in fact. Many influencers create high-quality, professional content for FREE. Reflect on that for a second….
It means that Instagram is fast becoming a Wikipedia of creative endeavours, shared resources, experience, skills and knowledge. You can cultivate a feed that actually feeds your growth. For influencers to be able to create this content for free, they have the right to earn money, through brand endorsements. Many influencers choose carefully the brands they work with and whilst you can never know whether an individual has ‘sold out’ on their principles in favour of large wads of cash from a brand they don’t genuinely support, the likelihood is much slimmer unless they are actually capable of commanding a following as extensive as a Kardashian (no offense intended to Kim K-West, if you’re reading). But in the sense that they align their own passions with the brands they choose to support, they are truly more useful and trustworthy sources of information than flicking through adverts.
So back to the piece….
The ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’
This term, coined by Klaus Schwab in his book of the same name, refers to the most recent transition from the third industrial revolution which shifted “muscle power to mechanical power”, to today’s digital world, where “enhanced cognitive power is augmenting human production”. Schwab argues that this revolution is “redefining what it means to be human”.
New technology is affecting all aspects of our lives, our work, our career and moreover how we relate to one another. Technology has made us more connected than ever before, and whilst the impact of the internet or smartphones seems easy to understand, Schwab believes that new technologies like AI and synthetic biology are much harder to grasp. However, I feel societies – if globalisation still enables us to see one another as distinct societies in this sense – have not yet adapted culturally to the third industrial revolution.
Technology is escaping us
We do not hesitate to make use of technology when we don’t understand it. How many of us could look at the algorithms which power Facebook, or comprehensively review and understand the legal terms of the Ts&Cs that we blindly agree to when we sign up to a new email list? How many of us give away our data to private businesses without even knowing what we have given away or how it will be used?
What’s more, our faith does not lie in Governments, whom we know do not understand the technology and, if Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s questioning by US Senators is anything to go by, those who lead us do not know the first thing about effectively regulating technology. If you have the time, I recommend you take 2 minutes to watch the video below. I’m aware I’m already living up to my blog’s title by whittling on…. so by all means jump ahead if that’s how you’re feeling.
This is in part a generational divide. To a millennial or Gen Z this video is entertaining – it highlights the complete lack of understanding presented by the generation in power. Despite this, can we really expect our politicians to be coders too? As technology becomes simultaneously more widespread and specialized, how can we share this expertise between private and public sector without compromising our freedom?
On the flip side, we do have unprecedented trust and faith in each other that these corporations will not betray us, that Facebook will not become the Orwellian Big Brother. 2.19 billion of us have willingly handed over our personal data, enabling Facebook to become the world’s largest database of the human population, and as we scroll mindlessly through our feed of cat videos, online petitions and photos of old school friends’ boyfriends’ brother-in-laws’ stag do, I can’t see that we are deeply unsettled at an existential level by the immensity and enormity of this platform or its potential to manipulate and control. We accept the vulnerability. We trust.
If you allow me the indulgence, I’m going to take a second to crudely oversimplify human history. Stick with me…
In prehistoric times, when our partner left the ‘cave’ or whatever shelter we had found for our family, we didn’t know whether they would return, but as the modern world became safer and more secure, we had a stronger sense of security and could become complacent. The likelihood of getting killed by a wild animal vastly removed, and although after the first industrial revolution there were serious health and safety failings in factories, and barring war-time, there’s a pretty safe assumption for a couple of hundred years that your partner will return home for dinner. Fast forward to the present day, and whilst the likelihood they will return home for dinner is yet stronger still, the chances they will choose not to come back is a different story. We don’t have a clue if the partner we have lay next to in bed has rolled over to face their back to you and is actually on WhatsApp messaging their booty call and has just agreed to Tinder date the following week. The lack of trust has always been there, but now its form has shape shifted. Technology is a great enabler of temptation: if the desire is there, its fulfillment is, quite literally, in the palm of your hand.
So with our trust in society and our personal relationships unhinged, where does this leave us?
Brené Brown’s incredible Ted Talk on vulnerability has had over 9.3 million views on Ted.com and a further 7.9 million views on YouTube (roughly 2.7 million of those views were me alone). She powerfully argues that vulnerability is essential to being brave and ultimately to live full, emotionally rich lives.
Her research is fascinating and insightful, and her presentation is compelling, but those factors alone cannot account for why Brené’s talk had such extensive appeal. Why did vulnerability resonate so widely?
Because what we all have in common is: we have no choice but to embrace uncertainty more now than we have done for centuries.
So what does this mean for human connection?
To be able to trust one another, in a sense, now requires more blind faith than ever before. We need to find ways to trust our governments, our neighbours, our friends and family and even our closest partners. It is an unprecedented issue in human history: based on recent experience, the rate of change has been radically disruptive resulting in a valid, deep uncertainty about the future. Does this account for the popularity of mindfulness, with its focus on present-moment awareness, and the explosive growth of Bear Grylls survival television?
Accepting vulnerability into our lives is crucial, because it certainly isn’t going anywhere! But it also requires a deeper sense of self-reliance: if all else falls apart, will I crumble too? To truly face the future, we must acknowledge the present is much more vulnerable than our psychological defense mechanisms would have us believe.
So my question to you: Is vulnerability the answer?
Or, do we need to re-define our social behaviors and reconnect in the context of a global, diverse, interconnected community to rebuild and reshape real, face-to-face human relationships?
Do I have this completely backward? Do all generations think their world is more uncertain than that of the preceding?
Perhaps this is simply the tinted lens of a mid-twenties female, finding her footing in the world.