One of the most interesting facets of the research into the Landscape of Trust so far has been not the subject matter itself, (fascinating as that is), but rather the experience of research in the Social Age. With very little logistical effort, utilising tools like Survey Monkey, Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s been possible to engage almost 4,000 people in the early stage prototype work. The acts of creating a research design, testing and sharing it, as well as collating large numbers of responses is transformed from my postgrad days.
Back then, i would find myself photocopying printed surveys, then having to wander around offices or venues, recruiting subjects, before finally retreating to deconstruct the answers, tallying them into a spreadsheet by hand. The process of research, the process of prototyping, even the process of recruiting respondents, was much slower and more painful.
This transition is typical of the Social Age: something that was previously hard, slow and tedious, now fast, easy and effortless. But more than that: amplified and extended. The key difference i find today is reach: connecting to wider spaces, more dispersed, further out into the world.
Barriers to communication in the old world were mainly technological and geographical: communication technology was too poor or specialist to reach many people and the distances were too great to connect in any other way. That situation is now reversed: there are multiple and diverse technologies for communication, and this abundance of communication has eroded the effect of distance. Today, i can connect with anyone, unless any person, government or system is actively trying to stop me.
This shift, from ‘constrained communication’ to ‘broad reach’ covers not simply the availability of channels, but the breadth of styles as well: whilst we were limited to letters, phone calls and pictures before, today we can Tweet, SnapChat, email, Skype, Zoom, Vine and so on: we can connect in multiple ways, sometimes highly purposeful, at others, entirely ephemeral.
With greater reach comes exposure to new ideas, new frames, new cultures, a facet of communication which both strengthens us and challenges those things that we hold to be true. The ability to connect so easily has led to the spread of ideas and stories, but also the rise of related persecution and bullying. Being able to share a story is one thing: but having to respond to how others react is another.
It’s clear that legal, ethical and moral frameworks have yet to catch up with the technology: simply trying to force the technology company to be moral or legal guardians of the conversations that flow through their platforms is a fantasy and to miss the point: we do not need outsourced police, we need an evolved culture.
One feature of my own thinking that i think is increasingly relevant is the distinction between formal and social technologies: those which are under the control of the organisation, and those which we own ourselves. We express different views on fully social technologies than we do on purely formal ones. To achieve maximum reach within an organisation, we may have to consider ownership of the technology as well as ownership of the story itself.
In the Social Age, we are bought closer together by collaborative communications technology: the barriers of the past have fallen away, replaced by new challenges and constraints, as well as great reach and amplification. We have not yet evolved to feel safe in this new space, and to do so is likely to require both adaptation in technology (for example, bots to help identify child pornography, and to automatically close accounts), accountability (what do we do when that technology is used to suppress political choices) and sociology (what do these wider communities mean to us at a fundamental level, the relationship between individual and community). Until we start exploring these aspects of the Social Age, we may have reach, but it may be at some cost.