I remember, as children, we would get into a phase of being smart-asses with parents, teachers and friends... some of us haven't grown out of that phase, but that's the subject of another lovehate. We always sought the tangible and something we could sense before we would believe. It was this time that most of us would start questioning the faith we put in schools and churches.
And it was always the smartass in us who would question the teacher when they told us we would math or writing skills later in life. And it was the ignorant small-mindedness in us who would loudly proclaim, "If I can't see it, it doesn't exist!", or some other like absolute. And it was the same smartass in us who would find a thousand ways to disbelieve an authority figure until they trapped us in a simple geography loop like:
"Well, do you believe Iceland exists?"
And we'd say, "Sure!"
And they'd say, "Well, have you ever been there?"
And we'd say, "no."
And they'd say, "Well then, in your world anyway, Iceland must not exist because you've never seen it."
And we'd reply, "But it's in an atlas."
The truth that hammered home at that point, whether we realized it or not, was what do we put trust in, people or paper? I went through plenty of educational years where the text was gospel and the voice of the preacher at the pulpit was suspect. And now that a couple of decades are working through, I'm wondering how much has changed. Where do I place my trust these days when it comes to information about things from the useless and insignificant to things that are earth-shattering and replete with personal implications?
I'm not talking simple tendencies to believe here, I'm talking complete trust. There may the smattering of iconic Twitterers that you're willing to let guide you through your everyday tech news. There may be a number of bloggers that you're willing to accept suggestions from when it comes to your pop culture ingestion for the week. There may even be a some news outlets that you still believe completely when they report stories both good and bad. Where does our trust get limited with each and all of these sources?
If I get a phone call in the middle of the night from an unknown caller telling me to get down into my basement because a tornado is coming in five minutes, do I get out of bed and run downstairs. How about if I get that call from a neighbour?
In many ways the web has been the great equalizer of authority. While I find little reason to ever go to my MySpace page anymore, I remember how great a tool I thought it was for musicians when it first blew up because, in its nascent pahases, my music page offering up a list of a few songs was no different than the page allotted to some of the biggest recording artists in the world. The commonality between the design became the great equalizer and someone coming onto either page with no knowledge of either performer's works could make an unbiased decision on their musical likes and dislikes, not based on packaging, but on simple subjective like and dislike.
Early blogs allowed for this aspect as well, at least to a certain degree, but the proliferation of "professional" blogs and bloggers has driven a division between a trust based on content and a trust based on perception. If the content is not coming from the stylish "professional" looking site, are we less convinced that the content is true?
And as we move from the blog to the microblog (or essentially a status update) how do we then extend the trust factor. If someone who you just added to Facebook on a lark posts a status update telling you to disconnect your modem, reboot your computer and run a virus scan because a worm has just hit 90% of users on social networks, do you follow the advice? What if, instead of a little known acquaintance, it's a friend who you know is not that strong with computers? What if it's a random Twitter follower, or perhaps one of the Twitterati who should know what they're talking about? Do you follow any of these recommenders solely based on trust, or do you require back up that you could spend valuable time searching for while your hard drive gets more corrupted?
Are we that much different from the student who was willing to disrespect the authority without the paper and text backup? If the link attached to the warning, that directs us to a blog of unknown origin, spells out the threat in detail, yet we are unfamiliar with the writer of the blog, we are in a quandry. Do we trust a CNN.com story of a virus more than one we might pick up from a reputed tech blog? Do we still need to see the atlas page of Iceland?
If the web is the great equalizer, how are we redefining our concepts of trust around the presenters of such information. I don't know that there are any Edward R. Murrows or Walter Cronkites out there who completely own the undivided trust of this single medium. The web's anarchic authority subjectivity is messy business that I'm quite happy to have muddled and sullied by lies and half-truths, because the day information gets presented in blacks and whites instead of millions of shades of grays and browns it currently resides in, is the day the medium ceases to be culturally relevant and instead becomes as devoid as a newspapers and television reporting.
As much as I never know who to completely trust on the web, I do have faith that the truth is somewhere out there as opposed to the lack of the same faith I have with traditional media. They used to advertise indoor Monster Truck Rallies with "We're turning the arena into a GIANT MUDPIT!" Enjoy the mudpit folks; one day it will be gone and replaced by a parking lot with lots of flourescent signs and big box stores. For now, in web we trust - so say we all.