29. Elvis said it best: “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.

I’ve got 2 books on order from Amazon, The Intention Economy by Doc Searls and Liars & Outliers by Bruce Schneier. I, obviously, haven’t read either of them yet but I am familiar with both writers through their blogs and as is custom nowadays, that means I have a broad outline of what the books are about, because they’ve both been discussing these ideas for some time now.

Doc , Bruce

One idea that links the 2 books is trust, at many levels, personal, corporate and sovereign. Trust seems to be enjoying a little personal  steam engine moment in my surfing/reading/watching currently.

Indeed I am writing this post now because as I was ordering the books, a repeat of the episode of Coast (my TV was on in the background), that had originally given me this observation, came on.

An island with a new bridge and a new causeway changes within itself. People on islands rely on each other, for sure, but when you can get on and off 24/7, not so much.  As we expand the personal reach of our communications, we don’t maintain equilibrium, trust in the local realm suffers.

Doc Searls is one of the authors of the Cluetrain manifesto, which if you aren’t familiar is where the title of this post comes from. I, personally, find it extremely reassuring that the authors found a way to reference Elvis in a marketing / technology manifesto.

Since 2006 Doc has been developing the concept of VRM, or vendor relationship management, and this is what his new book is about. I’m looking forward to hearing about the structure of an economy where the consumers are fully empowered participants, with ownership over their personal data, and where markets converge around buyers, not vendors. It’s a practical extension of the concepts first aired in the Cluetrain manifesto (which is now 13 years old!), and as it’s an unashamedly futuristic piece of writing, we should consider that we don’t seem to have moved into the digital future first hinted at by Cluetrain very effectively.

Bruce Schneier is a security technologist who has long held a reputation for bold and incisive observations, and accurate too.  He has been a highly vocal critic of the ‘security theatre’ of the TSA in America, and was recently ‘uninvited’ from the formal TSA effectiveness hearings, a move widely interpreted as inappropriate and partisan. He covers a range of issues from international / airport / cyber / tech /crypto ……. There is almost always something fascinating, and new, on his site.

Trust and cooperation are the first problems we had to solve before we could become a social species. In the 21st century, they have become the most important problems we need to solve—again. Our global society has become so large and complex that our traditional trust mechanisms no longer work. – Bruce Schneier

This, incidental post, is a great example of what he’s on about in practice.

On the economic front I think we could all agree that a little more trust between populations and banks (deserved trust that is) would be a good thing. If you are unsure of just how important trust can be in the economic structure of a nation have a listen to this podcast from This American Life about how they finally tackled Brazil’s hyperinflation problem.

…..the government tricked, 150m people into believing again that their money was worth something when there was absolutely no evidence to support that claim, and it worked

The issue of trust is also fundamental to terms of identity, maybe even a part of the definition? If I can’t trust you to actually be you, how can I trust the data we exchange.

Consistency of identity is a somewhat recent human concern, brought to the masses by the internet. The ease of almost any legitimate exchange (of goods or opinions) is enhanced by trusted identification, needs usually define the differing levels of trust needed (you will be much more concerned that your child’s teacher is who they say they are, than say your milkman – if you even know who he is at all).

Issues of anonymity and how we structure law to reflect the new logistic realities of our world are deeply important and I imagine will be highly instructive in terms of what the internet becomes. Technical structure and user experience design will both rely on, and inform whatever becomes the dominant solution. People are looking at all this.

Then there is this plaintive cry from Joan Slonczewski

I’m not sure I like her assertion that the author, the construct of an author that is, is the ultimate monopoly. As in the only person who can create a piece of work that is a genuine Slonczewski, is Slonczewski herself. I think she’s right, I don’t disagree. but I do dislike the usage because it brings the economic far too close to the concept of personal identity than I am comfortable with.

Here’s a great little story, although you might have to check yourself as you read through it, because it’s so easy to believe that this could be happening right now. In fact I’d be amazed if it isn’t actually a significant reality somewhere in the world today.

I’m going to close with the Coast story, quoted above, again.

I wrote that after hearing the boatman to the Isle of Skye, in Scotland, talk about how the community there changed when they built a bridge. I think the line “when you can get off 24/7, not so much” was his.

That’s not such a ground breaking observation on the face of it, until you see the corollary in modern communications technology.

However, another key insight, well for me anyway, from this, is that much of what we call trust is created by circumstance, not by some inherent human capacity.

If you live on an Island community and you are the midwife, you will get out of bed at 3am to birth a child even if you hate her mother, largely because there is no-one else, and you have to. Your community exists on this interdependent web of available skills amongst the island’s population. On an island you serve the community, such that it serves you when you need it.

If you live in London, and you are the midwife on duty when the woman you hate comes for her birth, I’m pretty sure you’d be professional and do your duty then too. But I’m not so sure the woman you hate, however, the mother to be, would be so trusting, and may well insist on another midwife. From her perspective, you have nothing to lose. You have no interdependency at all.

What will modern digital islands look like? Or, more precisely, how can we create the same compulsion to trust that exists in the geographic island paradigm, in our emerging digitised society. Answers on a postcard please.

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