Technology and Trust

Day 20 of #100DaysToOffload

At the intersection of typewriters, technology, and humanism: Richard Polt, typecasting about Leon Botstein's comments here, highlights Botstein's great point about the importance of real time in-person interaction, as made so clear in the pandemic. But RP cuts out the best bit of Botstein's quote:

I’ll put this in a provocative way. Learning and teaching are probably, if you’ll excuse the comparison, similar to sex in their relationship to technology. Technology can improve things at the margins, but the basic transaction remains the same.

That's Botstein. There's so much to unpack there.

So much....

But I'm not going to touch that, because, well, that just seems both true but also not something of an unwise way to put all this. Suffice it to say that I think the key here which Botstein is getting at is that both scenarios involve communication, trust, and relationships.

The communication part is most obvious, but it's easier to skip over the importance of trust, i.e. that we trust that our gestures and language, flattened or heightened or shaped as it is by the medium we use, is going to be received in a way that we can correct misunderstandings. I have had a number of instances in the past two weeks where I think the problem has been people taking technology as a transparent medium, whereby they don't pause to think whether someone who they perceive to be saying one thing would actually be the kind of person who would say such a thing. They don't have literacy, in a way. They are reading the online interaction through the wrong language, not seeing pauses as function of technology rather than intent, and not seeing cross-talk as a struggle to make oneself heard within the technology rather than a personal slight.

This translates to written media in ways that I think we generally know better for fiction. False narrators are as old as literature, with an Odysseus who may or may not be telling the truth about his adventures, embedded as it is in his need to gain a meal from his hosts the Phaeaecians; or we could go further back, to Gilgamesh, or Middle Egyptian literature. Plato had it right, words are fatherless. They have the potential to breach trust about their origin, their family, their intent. People can be who they say they are, or not. For nonfiction, we have elaborate scholarly means to signal a chain of custody for knowledge, through citations and footnotes (a habit both modern in its current form and ancient in its origins) precisely because words speak apart from the authenticity of their progenitors.

This has been on my mind a great deal, as I ponder how much to attribute to my own name, to brand and mark words with a kind of constructed authenticity around professional identity. I hesitate, because of trust. Botstein gets that much right, about anything online and anything involving communication. There is room for miscommunication.