The mantra that I frequently hear is that overall levels of trust are declining in public institutions and even between people.I hear that technology is building invisible walls around individuals and that we are less connected despite the existence of amazing tools that are supposed to connect us.
Is it true? Like most generalities, it probably is and is not. Too bad because we know a key thing about trust. Without it, modern society doesn’t function. We must trust people who we do not know or we will not be able to use the systems that make life happen.
So what drives trust? What are the core determinants that make it flourish? Conversely, what destroys it? As Bruce Schneier pointed out a while back, whatever they are, they are matters of perception, not just reality. If we perceive that something is safe, we trust it. That goes for situations and for people.
So it is not enough to make something safe. It is equally important to persuade people that it is safe in order to build trust. So what persuades?
A track record of trustworthiness helps. You might trust your huge barking Doberman not to bite you if he or she has never done so over a period of years. Strangers might feel less secure, whether they have reason to or not.
And here is the fun thing — we are starting to realize that reputation can be created in digital space. A digital reputation, based on the experiences of everyone who has dealt with you can confirm that you are trustworthy to people who have never met you. For example that is how Airbnb works.
This is something new. Not only does it provide an incentive for folks to do things online to build a digital reputation. It allows us to better value what others offer. As our networks grow in complexity, this will grow in importance.