Love In The Age Of Transparency: Trust, Temptation & Tech


Trust is in the crosshairs in the age of transparency, but the trials of technology could teach us how to rebuild it.

I attended a beautiful wedding at the weekend – beautiful couple, beautiful venue, beautiful crowd.

I do love a wedding. Whatever the circumstances, it’s a valiant act: an act of hope; a concerted step into the future – a shared future, feet together, in step with each other, however uncertain the ground ahead.

That always seems to me to be a terribly admirable thing to do.

A wedding invites witnesses, in the flesh, and in ink on paper, to hope – and to certain obligations, be they emotional or legal. Whoever is present is testament to those assurances from each party in the union; each guest, apart from being a (usually, staggeringly expensive) cost-per-head, invests in that bond (you’re a pretty lousy wedding guest if you’re there hoping it will fail).

Of course, what usually makes the leap of faith that getting married is all the more poignant at most weddings is the certainty that a great many present in the crowd will have failed at their own attempted unions. 

Is failure the word? There’s a lot of loaded blame in that, and a lot of injured parties in the divorce courts. Is it your ‘fault’, even partly, if your partner cheats on you, lies to you, hits you? Have you failed in some way? Can you be blamed for pinning your hopes on someone who couldn’t deliver?

A lot of people, it seems to me, have worked really hard at their marriages. Tragically, for so many, they’ve end up being the only one working on it.

But wherever it starts, however it unravels, it always ends up in the same place: a breakdown in trust.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about, talking about, and writing about the nature of trust between employer and employee, institutions, corporations and citizens, but little time really thinking about the nature of trust between romantic partners (rom-com is really not my genre), so, when I go to big social occasions, particularly weddings when you get the chance to catch up with people you haven’t seen in years, I’m amazed at the revelations I hear.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been at a string of events where I have been left speechless (really) by some of the ‘trust issues’ people have been facing in their relationships; what is happening to everybody?

What is everybody playing at?

Actually, in many ways, I think there’s a big clue in just that – playing. Those darn little devices, harbingers of dangerous games. They’re always there, in any tale of modern day marital disharmony or distrust, supplying us with their dodgy pics, dubious texts and damnable browsing histories.

So often, I’m sure, it all starts out innocently enough – ish. But any fool should know two things about living in the 21st century by now: technology heats thing up, and this is the age of transparency – there’s no where left to hide.

Texting playful banter easily accelerates into over-heated (or over-exposed) exchanges. Online, any image your mind can design can find its graphic reality, which can make it, then, a possibility – which can lead to playing very dangerous games indeed. And, just to add even more complexity (and duplicity) to the mix, the digital age allows a lot of people to hide behind a lot of masks – and people in masks tend to be the ones who do pretty terrible things.

Of course, it’s the very connectivity that pushes temptation our way that also, so ruthlessly, exposes us. Devices are left unguarded. Texts undeleted. Emails get rerouted. The fact is, most of us don’t understand what we’ve got connected to our Clouds or not, don’t understand why some texts show up on multiple devices and some don’t. And, let’s face it, if you’re playing around, and away from home, a lot, you probably haven’t got time to read the damn instructions anyway. 

We are stupid to fall to temptation (haven’t we always been?). We are stupid to think we can ever trust technology to cover our tracks (on this, we’re really not that clued up at all). 

But I don’t think we’re stupid to keep trying to build trusting, trusted unions – whether between romantic partners, employers and employees, or public institutions and society at large. 

The technology that has ushered in this age of transparency has, indeed, opened Pandora’s Box. The darkest secrets of the world, and of people’s inner worlds, fly out around us. It’s tempting to want to cover our eyes.

But, for all the heartbreak, for all the incomprehension, for all the loss and the discord and the shattered hopes, for everyone I’ve spoken to recently who has been exposed to something troubling, or untrustworthy, about their partner (thanks to technology), wherever they are right now in their relationship (or out of it), the truth has, in many ways, set them free.

Some forgive, try to forget. For some, there’s nothing left to rebuild. Either way, hope does spring eternal. It’s the really incredible thing about people. However scarred their hearts, they come to a wedding full of good hope for others, wishing them well, and, in that, start to rebuild the possibility again for themselves, to open that door just a little.

As the beautiful couple at the opening of this post reminded the crowd they’d gathered for their speeches, it takes a lot of work, and a lot of honesty, to build a solid, happy, productive union.

Employers and institutions need constant reminding of that, and so do we. It’s no wonder we (rightly) struggle to find trust in collectives when it’s such a struggle to find it even in those we love.

But, much as the tentacles of technology put more temptation our way than ever, perhaps we can learn from the transparency it offers us to stop hiding ourselves in the first place; to drop our masks before we commit, or ask others to commit to us.

Hiding is such a waste of everyone’s time and, unless you completely unplug, you’re going to be found out sooner or later.

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