E-commerce, e-banking, e-trading, e-medicine, not to mention bioengineering, and genetic therapy - to name only a few - are today more promise than reality. They fascinate us, just as they cause us deep concern. This concern is not based on technical or scientific aspects. It reflects uneasiness with new types of interactions.
Family relationships and obligation, business dealings, food, medicine, social security, religion-all the personal, social, political contracts implicit in custom, sealed by an oath or a handshake, verbal or written down on paper in legal terms and with full protection of the law, that humans have lived with for millennia are, in the final analysis, based on trust.
Trust: the anticipation that each partner will live up to its side of an agreement, the anticipation that determines current behaviors in view of what is promised for the future.
Trust in the pragmatic framework of direct transactions is quite different from trust in the new pragmatic framework of highly mediated actions. A person examining someones wound, touching his skin, and applying medicine inspired more trust than a professional looking in our genetic code for a genetic switch that might (or might not) control ones physical well-being.
Our age is characterized by shorter cycles of innovation, faster processes, decentralization, and discontinuity. Permanence is at best a nostalgic desideratum connected to a past that for certain intervals had an appearance of stability. Our time is one of instability, higher speeds, and a human scale of pragmatic activity that has reached globality. Behind these loaded words is the simple realization, by each and every one of us, of a state of flux. After all is said and done:
Is trust still possible today?
And if trust turns out not to be possible, how will we cope with more and more innovation without the underlying trust that engages us in new experiences as innovation makes them possible?