How Shall We Trust (again)?

A longtime friend asked me to come on her show this week to recap the past decade in tech. While I was happy to discuss smart devices and apps, we quickly transitioned to their deeper implications on trust — and power.

I tend to take advantage of these requests. It may be the old journalist in me. Or just another opportunity to champion the currency of ideas shared through trustful relationship. It’s about sparking change with credibility — through an exchange of value AND values. It’s embedded in the graduate program I’ve led.  It’s in how I tell stories.

Ultimately I connected my appearance to the upcoming public conversation I’m hosting at Town Hall Seattle on January 23: “Who Can We Trust? Technology’s Impact on Democracy.” It’s the start of a statewide journey to explain and explore how misinformation spread — and how we can work together to eliminate it. As I continue to focus on a new kind of leadership, I believe that good decision-making must begin with a shared foundation of good information.

But the subject itself is provocative, and even polarizing. In this current climate, there’s a sensitivity around experts telling everyone else what they should think. We need to go into these conversations with a certain humility, along with a desire to listen and ultimately find common ground.

That’s the role I can play as I ally with the just-launched Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington. I’m honored to work alongside the five world-class researchers from this Center who will be presenting, listening and responding in January. And true to form, I’ll use the opportunity to experiment with new technology from Canadian startup Thoughtexchange, which will hopefully enable us to connect more profoundly to the hundreds of attendees. The “meta” of this approach is not lost on me: to create a climate of trust in conversation around the impact of technology on democracy, I seek to apply technology in a room full of strangers. I’ll have to make a strong case from the outset of the event for this to succeed. But if we do, we may have a model of public conversation to take forward with us.

Here’s our Town Hall’s call-to-action:

Who Can We Trust poster.jpg

We are living at a singular moment in history. Never before have we had access to more knowledge, more opinions, more analysis, more advertising… more information. This promised to unite us in ways that we never thought possible — from nascent worldwide movements to unexpected personal relationships across continents and cultures.

It has also sown unmistakable division. With access to this vast digital landscape, we’ve become more entrenched in our perspectives. We’re losing our shared understanding — fundamental to an open society such as ours. Seeing is no longer believing. Reality itself can be skewed en masse.

How do we find the “truth” in all of that alarming chaos?

Hosted by Hanson Hosein, Co-Director, UW Communication Leadership, with introductory remarks from Caryn Mathes, General Manager and CEO, KUOW.

Presenters from the UW Center for an Informed Public:

Ryan Calo, Lane Powell & D. Wayne Gittinger Endowed Professorship

Chris Coward, Senior Principal Research Scientist and Director, Technology & Social Change Group

Kate Starbird, Associate Professor, Human Centered Design & Engineering

Emma Spiro, Assistant Professor, Information School

Jevin West, Associate Professor, Information School, Calling BS