A high technology world is a world fundamentally based on trust. The lack of this is currently the single largest issue, defining politics within and without national borders.
We have to start with the definition of “technology” once more. Techne, in Greek, simply means skill so the word itself means nothing more than “the study of skill.” In practice, it is more about the development and application of skill to produce useful items for sale and earn a living.
It is much more common to define technology by the things that it brings us. This is an inadequate definition for many reasons. Take for example a mobile phone, something you have right now. It is a bundle of a lot of different technologies connected together to make one whole, a concept also worthy of more discussion. Yet it is much more than that single item at the same time.
Like any piece of technology, what makes the thing useful is how it is used.
Many jobs today depend on writing software for such devices, for example. Each generation of phone is defined by the new features which make it up, or each advancement that distinguishes it from the otherwise increasingly commoditized concept of “mobile device.” Most importantly, people of all kinds use these devices to build and maintain connections to each other.
This is typical of all higher technologies. They are defined by their connections, or ability to connect, in an increasingly specialized world.
There is no reason to understand what has gone into this phone. There is little reason to think about the components of it either, unless one becomes limiting. At the time of purchase, a comparison between brands might be based on “the gots” – it’s got a 4k camera, it’s got 8GB of memory, and so on. Yet after that, these details are less important as long as they continue functioning. The phone, the pieces of technological art connected to make a whole, is a single thing.
Society itself comes to work in much the same manner. As we specialize into different areas, it is important that everyone does their job in order to make the entire system work. Every one of us is an appliance user in some form as a result, as none of us understand everything which we use on a daily basis.
Take as another example the opposite end of the technology tree, the food you eat. Very few people think of agriculture as “technology,” but it very much is. Can you grow the food that you need to survive? If you had a modern farm at your disposal, could you hitch up a plow and make it all work? Could you breed a cow, raise it up, slaughter it, process the meat, and keep it fresh long enough to use it all?
In terms of technology we use but do not understand, we do not need to look any further than a hamburger.
For this, we have to believe that this is indeed a real burger. We have to believe that it is not full of dangerous hormones or antibiotics. These are all things which we cannot know individually for every burger, no matter how much we’d like to. The great system of connections that raised that cow, killed it, turned it into meat, shipped it to us, and eventually cooked it contains a series of connections which we all have to trust.
Failing that trust, some kind of regulation is necessary – meaning that we ultimately trust our government.
In the burger example, the need for a lot of trust is obvious. In the phone example, it takes a bit more paranoia to consider what kind of spyware was accidentally piggybacked with that kewl app or installed as a chip on the phone. In all of these cases, the series of connections that make specialization possible in a high technology world are based entirely on trust no matter which way you look at it.
Do you trust the market and its series of connections? Do you trust government?
I have often said that leadership in today’s world is equal parts strategy and teaching. I think that I need to add trust to that definition. These three elements, together, are all woefully missing. But it is trust which is more fundamental and immediate. A specialized world, a technology driven world, absolutely depends on trust at all levels.
Teaching and a transparent long-term strategy do help build trust, without a doubt. There are many aspects of leadership which must be possessed by every citizen in an open, democratic society. Trust, however, is a particularly special case which has to be earned and shared as well as exhibited in the highest possible moral standards. Among these meta-skills trust, or the ability to generate trust, stands alone.
This is why trust of our government, regardless of where we live, or trust in other people in other cultures along with their government, has come to define all aspects of human interaction and the building of a larger global market and civilization, something we can call “politics.”