Tribe, Trusted, and True

Credit: Christopher M. Dawson

Credit: Christopher M. Dawson

The annual Edelman Trust Barometer is out, and tech journalist Tom Foreski did some digging into the findings. As Tom points out, the news isn’t good for PR agencies, “social media experts,” citizen journalists, or media companies of any kind:

  • Trust in information from friends and peers, “people like me,” dropped by 20 points, from 47 to 27 percent.
  • Trust in information from digital media–blogs, social networks, and free content sources like Wikipedia or Google news, remains low: only between 11 percent and 22 percent of respondents express trust in information about companies from these sources.
    […]
  • Trust in credibility of TV news declined by 20 points, from 44 to 24 percent
  • Trust in news coverage on the radio dropped by 17 points, from 48 to 31 percent.
  • Trust in newspapers fell by 14 points, from 46 to 32 percent.
  • Only 38 percent trust media (as an institution) to do what is right, down from 46 percent in 2008.
  • Media companies (as an industry) have declined in credibility by 16 points (from 48 to 32 percent).
  • In the U.S., media companies are tied with the insurance industry for last place. Banks are second from the bottom.
  • Top trusted industry is technology and it has widened its lead over other industries.
  • Tied for the second most trusted industry is Biotech and Automotive at 63 percent, followed by Energy, Retail and Food at 61 percent.

Naturally, this got Tom speculating whether it was simply a case of market factors at work: the media marketplace is simply over-saturated (with everything from mainstream to social media), and that might have driven the market value through the floor. As far as the mainstream media goes, Tom also suggested that it probably has to do with how “traditional media is under pressure, with fewer resources [which] means more mistakes, less time to check sources, [and] a lower quality product.”

I think another part of what’s going on here, though, is a case of over-exposure/fatigue. I mean, we’re tapped into information all the time. We spend the majority of our time staring at glowing rectangles. Our telescreens are on steroids. And we’re getting stupider because so much of our mind share is being taking up by other people’s messages that there hardly anything left for our own thought processes.

So maybe what’s starting to happen is that our minds are pushing back. Maybe it’s an evolutionary mechanism to coax our own, independent sense-of-self into re-asserting itself. ‘Cause something tells me that trust in peers that we actually share space hasn’t dropped. These are peers who we can read when they share information with us. We can see their body language and respond to it.

Who knows? Maybe what’s making us stupider is that we interact less with people and more with machines. We are, after all, social creatures, and those social tendencies have evolved over 3 millions years of physical interaction. So maybe our brains are pushing back. Maybe they’re trying to drive us away from the media circus and back home into the company of a real tribe.

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One Response to “Tribe, Trusted, and True”

  1. Annabelle February 6, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    Wow – thanks for the great article (& the links – everyone should read that Atlantic Monthly article). There isn’t a perfectly parceled point in my feedback – I like where your article has brought my brain this morning. Here’s where it’s brought me…

    I’m of two minds: I resist tools that make us more efficient (cell phone, car, dishwasher), until I realize that this type of stubborn refusal ends up getting in the way of something I COULD be doing rather than taking pleasure in the slow processes involved in what I am doing. (Dishes after a dinner party of 10? No thank you.) The Luddite in me is definitely learned from my parents, but there is a type of snobbery involved with that kind of thinking. I do think it is important to remain aware of how we are changing. Are we really getting stupider? Maybe. I definitely can’t read for as long as I used to. Are we interacting less? Or is it how we’re interacting, with who we devote that time to and how often we’re interacting that is the more damaging? I haven’t lost my faith in humanity, yet. I’m hoping we’re in the midst of striking that balance, a passive revolt against the tidal wave of information and a re-investment in the tactility of our tribal nature.

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