We’ve Stopped Trusting Institutions and Started Trusting Strangers

Rachel Botsman, a trust researcher, gives a TED Talk titled “We’ve Stopped Trusting Institutions and Started Trusting Strangers.” Botsman states that trust is fundamental for a society to thrive. Botsman quickly adds that the idea of trust is shifting. She argues that people’s perception of trust has changed because of new technologies.

Bostman uses BlaBlaCar, a platform that matches drivers and passengers for long rides, as an example of the power of social profiles. Users of BlaBlaCar can choose a ride companion based on whether they smoke, what music they like, whether they have a dog, and, perhaps most importantly, how much they’d like to talk on the ride.

BlaBlaCar is just one illustration, she says, of “how tech is enabling millions of people around the world to take a trust leap.”

While Botsman offers a useful story, she also offers a limited understanding of trust and the role of technology in influencing it. Trust is isolated from other important social factors such as reciprocity and connectedness, which are key, along with trust, to building social capital, a more powerful enabler of collective action than just trust.

BlaBlaCar is just one of many platforms that is altering our idea of trust. People today take leaps of trust in services used in their daily lives all the time, she says, including with Uber, Airbnb, Tinder and now cryptocurrencies.

“These are all examples of how technology is creating new mechanisms that are enabling us to trust unknown people, companies and ideas,” she said. “And yet at the same time, trust in institutions — banks, governments and even churches — is collapsing.”

“The implications are huge,” she added. “In the same way the internet blew open the doors to an age of information available to everyone, the blockchain will revolutionize trust on a global scale.”