government

Is trust in crisis? Not really, says US author

Without trust, society cannot survive nor thrive, Dr Botsman says

19:50 October 11, 2017

Abu Dhabi: People need to understand the new rules to preserve society’s most precious and fragile asset — trust, a leading global authority on the subject said yesterday.

“Without trust, and without an understanding of how it is built, managed, lost and repaired, a society cannot survive, and it certainly cannot thrive,” Dr Rachel Botsman, an award-winning author, speaker, university lecturer and media commentator, told the majlis of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

The lecture themed ‘The New Truths about Trust’ was attended by Shaikh Hamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court, shaikhs and senior officials.

Dr Botsman, who specialises in engaging and intelligent long-view of how technology is transforming human relationships and what this means for life, work and how we do business, said: “We keep hearing the cry: ‘Trust is in a state of crisis, and we need to rebuild it’. It has become a fearful meme of our times.”

She disagreed and suggested that even if that notion has some truth, we’re jumping to the wrong conclusions and asking all the wrong questions when it comes to fixing it, or even recognising what is really happening to trust.

“For the past 17 years, global communications firm Edelman has been conducting an annual ‘Trust Barometer’, asking more than 30,000 people across 28 countries about their level of trust in various institutions. The headline for the 2017 results was, tellingly, ‘Trust in Crisis’. Trust in all four major institutions — government, the media, business and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) — is at an all-time low,” Dr Botsman said.

She added the media suffered the biggest blow, now distrusted in 82 per cent of all countries surveyed. Rightly or wrong, people have lost faith in the key institutions of our society.

Dr Botsman affirmed she does not happen to think this is the age of distrust — far from it. “I mean why do people say they don’t trust bankers or journalists yet every night, two million strangers across more than 60,000 cities stay in each other’s homes on Airbnb? In China, 20 million rides are taken every single day on Didi, the Chinese competitor to Uber,” she argued.

Dr Botsman asserted there’s plenty of trust out there. “It just isn’t where it used to be. Trust, the glue that holds society together, hasn’t disappeared. It has shifted — from institutional trust to what I call distributed trust.”

Dr Botsman said it’s an age where individuals matter more than institutions and where customers are not just meek consumers but social influencers who define brands. And the implications for everything, from how we buy goods to the leaders we elect to how we consume news, are massive.

She suggested by asking challenging questions about the flawed structure and size of institutional systems, and who runs them, we are coming to another confronting realisation. Institutional trust, taken on faith, kept in the hands of a few and operating behind closed doors, wasn’t designed for the digital age.

“It wasn’t designed for an age of radical transparency, of WikiLeaks and Cryptome, where politicians and leaders must imagine they are operating behind clear glass.

“It wasn’t designed for an age where people can transact directly on platforms such as Airbnb, Etsy and Alibaba.

“It wasn’t designed for an era where it is predicted half of the workforce will be ‘independent workers’ — freelancers, contractors and temporary employees — within the next decade.

“It wasn’t designed for a time where we have become dependent on tech powerhouses such as Facebook, Uber and Google which represent new forms of ‘network monopolies’.

“It wasn’t designed for an era of automation and artificial intelligence where it is predicted by two Oxford economists that up to 47 per cent of jobs now performed by Americans are at risk of being lost to computers, as soon as the 2030s.

“It wasn’t designed for a culture where we want to control everything personally, from our bank accounts to our taxis, with a swift click, tap or a swipe.”

Dr Botsman said in our rush to reject the old and embrace the new, we may end up placing too much trust, too easily, in the wrong places. “For instance, when I look at things like the spread of fake news, the nastiness that goes on in some of the echo chambers, the malice and suspicion that invades much of the net, the chicanery, I fear for trust. But I also see entrepreneurs building all kinds of platforms from Airbnb to Ethereum to Meetup to build trust and allow people who have never met before to connect, collaborate and invent in ways on a scale never possible. I think we are at start of the third biggest trust revolution in the history of humankind,” Dr Botsman said.