Still finding a real person to trust is a lot harder now that families are scattered around the world. I've never thought of trust as a national trend, but Sebastian Mallaby's article, "The Decline Of Trust," in today's Washington Post makes some interesting points about the decline of trust in today society, in both business and government.
And the absence of trust can feed on itself. Leaders function under stifling oversight; this causes them to perform sluggishly, so trust continues to stagnate. But occasionally there is a chance to escape this trap: A shock causes trust to rise, leaders have a chance to lead and there's an opportunity to boost trust still further.
We've recently had a double opportunity. The boom of the 1990s boosted trust in business; the 2001 terrorist attacks boosted trust in government. But CEOs and politicians abused these gifts with scandals and incompetence. Such is the cost of corporate malfeasance and the Iraq war: Precious social capital is destroyed by leaders' avarice and hubris.
I often found it strange that my former employer, Apple Computer, would bring in high level management people from outside the company and trust their opinion far more than employees who had been working for the company. I don't know if the steadily declining trust that Apple showed it employees is mirrored at other companies, but I am sure that the lack of trust hindered productivity in Apple field teams.
Mallaby also talks about the Internet encouraging "acerbic negativity." On the one hand Mallaby might be right if you let yourself listen to only certain parts of the Internet.
However, I would make the argument that new communication techniques arising from the Internet actually encourage building new webs of trust. While there are parts of the Internet, like anncoulter.com, that I'll likely avoid, there are lots of other communities where I can find kindred spirits.
As someone who doesn't like large government, but believes that if we are going to have government it should be good government, there aren't any political parties locally where I really feel at home. Yet through contact established from my Internet presences, I've met a number of people with similar beliefs.
Most of us who regularly post have communities of readers who have self selected to the point that our audience cares about many of the same things that we do. I trust the opinions of many of my regular blog friends more than I do any politician. I value their opinions as highly as I do some well known pundits.
So while Sebastian Mallaby might be right to indict part of the modern world, there are many on line communities where modern technologies are driving new levels of trust and cooperation. Besides blogs, you cannot discount the social changes happening through instant messaging and on line communities.
Technology hasn't created a virtual southern village yet, but I have a confidence in new ways of communicating that will bring us closer together rather than drive us farther apart.
I don't believe we'll end up a nation of people listening only to their individual iPods or screaming at the rest of the world from our blogs.