Disruption of Public Trust

Tale of Two Societies

Gallup  Poll June 2016

Public Trust Trends 2016

The good news is that digital technology innovation has created an exciting new age for humanity during the past 40 years. In the mere blink of the geological eye a new society with virtually unlimited potential in the future for everyone on earth has emerged.

The bad news is the public has lost most of the trust in its institutions that have glued civil society together for millennia. The central question of our time is:

Will we adapt fast enough to be here in the future to tell about this time; or not, because lost public trust derailed our dreams?

Not an unfounded apocalyptic fear, just a trend.

Gallup Polls conducted in June 2016 show that Trends of public trust for America’s major institutions have steadily decreased during the last 42 years with about a 2/1 drop in percentage trust (e.g., trust in ‘Public Education’ dropped from 58% to 30% for trust considered “Great plus Quite a lot” during this 42 year period).

The key exception was trust in ‘Military,’ which increased from 58% to 73% for a “Great deal plus Quite a lot”  during the 42 year polling period. The detailed polling data shows that  ‘Military’ has been the most consistently trusted institution throughout the 42 year period.

Trust ratings for the four institutions with the most public facing-contact have dropped collectively to their lowest point during the past four decades:

  1. Congress…………………9% in  2016 vs 42% in 1973
  2. Big Business……………18% in 2016 vs 46% in 1973
  3. Newspapers…………….20% in 2016 vs 39% in 1973
  4. Television News……….21% in 2016 vs 42% in 1993


Today we all live in an exciting new age of progress  that shows up as positive and negative disruptions in our old ways of doing everything. The intended positive disruptions include: Affordable worldwide Internet connections, online shopping, smartphones, social media, live streaming of events, augmented reality.

The unintended negative disruptions are changing how every organization functions in many ways they don’t like; however, the most important underlying change that is not much talked about is perhaps the most important: Loss of public trust in our leading institutions. This loss impacts everything and has gradually occurred during the transition to today’s digitized society from its largely analog society some 40 years ago.

The case for my claim that loss of public trust is tied fundamentally to digitization of society is complicated in detail, but the big picture is simply this:

Living in the digital age is profoundly changing how we live faster than we have been able to adapt.

Life has always depended on communication among all parts of existence by the exchange of information in all of its forms.  However, digital technology has speeded up this rate of information exchange for humans to the speed of light, which is many, many thousands of times faster than the speed of thought and feeling. This innovative change in homo sapien society is arguably as huge when it took its big innovative leap from the trees millions of year ago to walk on two limbs and live in small tribes on the plains.

The loss  of public trust from digital  technology shows up in many specific ways, but mostly for how it tends to “short circuit” our humanity, what MIT professor Sherry Turkle calls “Alone, Together” as the individual human problem, and “Reclaiming Conversation” as a solution to that problem. I believe these two findings are strongly connected to the loss of public trust in our institutions at all levels, especially as learned anew by the young.

Viewed from a great distance and time,  I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that this loss of public trust is like a growing cancer on the body politic. It is an unintended disruption that will be fatal to all of us, one we dare not let happen.

What do we do about it?  Well, society has been here before; Wise counsel of the ages says there are three steps:

First, stop digging the hole we are  in; Second. understand what the problem is, and; Third, figure out how to fix it.”

As a professional big-picture problem-solver, the impact of digital technology on society (good and bad) is what I shall focus my efforts on going forward.  My blogs, social media and consulting will report my findings, conclusions and recommendations on how digital technology is impacting society.

I have been on the field directly experiencing society’s journey to the today’s digital reality for over 30 years as a researcher, physicist, business owner, entrepreneur, CEO advisor, and educator. With a nod to Charles Dickens, It is truly the best of times and the worst of times, once again.

Destruction is the evil twin of Disruption

One of the curious factoids about technology innovation is that the greater the potential of technology to improve our lives the greater seems the risk of our inability to survive its unintended consequences.  Nuclear energy is a familiar example of the previous new cycle of societal change from technological innovation.  Economist Joseph Schumpeter called these cyclical changes ‘creative destruction” that were brought on by technological innovation that replaces the “old and proven” (e.g., taxis) with a disruptive “new and better” (e.g., Uber).

Creative Destruction always has unintended bad consequences mixed in with the intended good consequences; it is the very nature of innovation, which always seems to produce dangerous ‘waste’ as the the by product and price of mining the ‘gold.’  We are not close to nature yet in the efficiency of our human-made change cycles.  The one area of “waste” this current age of digital disruption has been creating  for the past 40+ years is false hope, well intended or not.  We need to find a way to refill the tank with more knowledge and authenticity, and with less waste. If we do, the trust will grow.

Maybe we also need to develop a Gross Domestic Public Trust (GDPT) metric to remind us of where we are at all times on this important scale of society’s well being. Our public elections are for us to assess the State of the Nation at the very top once every four years by citizen vote for a binary choice.  This is way too coarse-grained for our fast moving digital society. Such coarse-grained designs fail more often in technology systems (like mechanical airplane control) for lack of fine-tuned corrective feedback (like modern fly-by-wire computer control systems).  We monitor money flow worldwide every microsecond.  Maybe we need a  miniature “Bloomberg App or Gallup Poll App” on our smartphones to monitor public trust.  We can certainly improve on the current system.

Stay tuned here on and Twitter @viewshift1

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