Funny how sometimes two unrelated events will provide a blinding insight into the obvious! A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with my 87 year old mom about the “old days” and how it was to grow up in a small village in rural Cyprus. That got me thinking about today’s society and how some things have changed and others have not. Then today I read this article on trust in business and it made me think about the correlations.
You see, in the small village in rural Cyprus, or any village or small town anywhere in the world 70-80 years ago for that matter, everyone knew everything about everybody. The places were too small not to. If someone did something bad, everybody knew about it. If someone wanted to start over, they had to move to another village or city far away, and if someone was not trustworthy, everybody dealt with them carefully. With the exception of the money lenders, who had a monopoly on capital availability and to a certain degree still do, one could not operate a business, and survive for long, if they had a bad product or delivered bad service.
Then things changed, and industrialization and urbanization drove the migration to larger cities, and all of a sudden people gained the ability to become anonymous by hiding in the crowd. And for the last fifty years or so, people and companies took advantage of that and hid behind anonymity, crowds, and corporate veils and went about their business, good or bad, without fear of what “the village” knew or didn’t.
But then it happened! Technology ushered in a new era of communications, transparency, and information sharing. We are now almost back to the small village model. Everyone who wants to, knows everything about everyone else, people or companies. Information about almost anything and anybody can be easily found, thanks to Google, and a bad product gets relentlessly reviewed in open forums. People talk about other people of Facebook and tweet about events in their lives. Illegal activities, at least the ones caught and prosecuted, are a matter of public record, and the information is accessible by anyone, no matter what city one moves to, or came from. And scoundrels and miscreants can be easily identified and exposed to the public by anyone with a phone camera and access to the net. We are back living in a village!
Some people complain about the invasion of privacy this new era brought, and I share some of their concerns, but I am not too worried. In the end, one of the small village values my mother instilled in me is that my reputation is the most important asset I have, so I have a relatively skeleton-free closet.
And for those who want to, the cycle will repeat itself, and over the next few years we will find ways to become anonymous again, until a new technology changes that and restarts the cycle.