Who Can You Trust? | Rachel Botsman

Summary of: Who Can You Trust?: How Technology Brought Us Together and Why It Might Drive Us Apart
By: Rachel Botsman


In this age of technology, trust is a central element keeping society together and driving our interactions. However, trust itself has evolved through human history. Enter ‘Who Can You Trust?: How Technology Brought Us Together and Why It Might Drive Us Apart’ by Rachel Botsman, which explores the ever-changing notion of trust, its history, and its vital importance in today’s interconnected world. From the Maghribi traders’ rating system in the eleventh century to today’s sharing economy with Uber, Airbnb, and blockchain, Botsman portrays the nuances of trust across ages and examines the impact of technology on trust itself.

Trust: The Key to Our Interconnected World

Trust is a vital aspect of our everyday lives, opening the door to the world and expanding our horizons. It is a complex but essential concept that underpins every aspect of our lives, from shopping online to taking a flight. Nevertheless, trust is a two-way street that requires mutual respect, and we tend to trust others when they have more to lose than to gain by betraying our trust. This was the same principle adopted by Maghribi traders in the eleventh century who developed a rating system that cut both ways to ensure honest business dealings. This innovative system, still used today, enabled them to establish a foundation of trust and grow their business network while avoiding being cheated. The modern-day version of this system is becoming increasingly essential as we continue to expand our interconnected world.

The Evolution of Trust

Trust has been the key player in the world of business since the very beginning. However, its definition and significance have been changing over time. There were two distinct periods before our current era of distributed trust – the age of local trust and the age of institutional trust. While people relied on face-to-face relationships and tight-knit communities in the first age, institutions such as banks, governments, and courts were the linchpins of the second.

Now we are moving into a new era of trust, where it is distributed horizontally between peers. For instance, instead of opting for trusted hotels like Hilton, we prefer staying in Airbnb accommodations provided by highly-rated hosts. We are willing to trust complete strangers by sharing our credit card details online, which opens up new possibilities.

Although this transition might appear scary, it paves the way for innovation, just like the introduction of paper money did in the past. As we understand and embrace this change in trust, we can explore many more opportunities.

Decline in Institutional Trust

The decline in institutional trust is a trend more apparent since the 2008 financial crisis. Before the crisis, technological changes had revealed the inner workings of institutions causing skepticism among individuals. New technologies, such as Wikileaks and social media, continue to provide access to information about institutions, shedding light on the powerful’s tax avoidance schemes. Consequently, the rules and laws by which most people live do not seem to apply to the rich and the influential, causing individuals to question the credibility of established institutions. Furthermore, social media has become a platform for poorly researched, sensationalist, and fake news, undermining traditional investigative reporting. These factors have significantly contributed to a decline in trust towards big institutions. Rebuilding trust is an uphill task, once misdeeds are exposed, it is challenging to regain trust.

Trust in the Sharing Economy

The success of companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Alibaba in the sharing economy lies in their ability to create mutual trust between users. By breaking away from the old model of traditional outlets and instead focusing on connecting peers online, these companies have revolutionized the way we do business. One key element of building trust in the sharing economy is the establishment of rules to protect users in case of something goes wrong. This is evident in the way Alibaba holds transactions in escrow accounts until the buyer confirms receipt of their goods. Another important factor that increases trust is the support system in place for users, which encourages us to take ever-larger trust leaps. These companies have enabled users to generate income from unused assets by connecting them with their peers while also generating billions of dollars in worth. The sharing economy thrives on mutual trust, and the success of these companies proves it.

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