Fake News. Post Truth. Twitter Bots. Fake Accounts. Fake, fake, fake.
My colleague and I spend our days studying culture, and we talk to many people about various things. Frankly, we think it is the best job in the world. However, after you have been in our line of work for a while, you learn that you have to be careful about what people say and what they do. It's a polite way of saying that people are often full of it 😬. It is not intentional deception, and I offer that perspective with a great love of humanity - we are emotional creatures, easily influenced by forces of which we are unaware, which is what makes us so fascinating. It also makes it very hard to get at why people do what they do.
The good news is, it is still possible, it just requires a different set of skills. Thankfully, the basic tenets of what makes us individuals remain remarkably consistent. Self-identity. Kinship. Creative expression. Professional culture. Religion/Faith. All examples of cultural systems that shape us along life and hugely influence who we are as we progress through life. What’s changed is that technology has allowed these influences to become hyper-efficient and borderless. For example, a family unit often shaped beliefs during childhood and exerted a great deal of control over ideology - primarily because of the overt and covert control over information and belief structures. In the past, it took a concerted effort to move outside of a realm, but that is no longer true. As we have all experienced, everyone now has access to pretty much anything, at a younger and younger age. With the ability now to create fake identities, fake images indistinguishable from real, computer-generated audio that can sound exactly like another person, the validity of the information is suspect. What/who can you trust? The unfortunate answer is nothing and nobody.
The result of this environment means that how we understand people and the way they live, work, and relate to one another isn’t comfortable, convenient, or even logical. Gone are the days of “quick and dirty” focus groups or online surveys to get a finger on the pulse of how people feel or what they want. The current wave of rapid, online panels that promise insights in days are very expedient, but also worry me. Analysis of results is often absent the context of the social and cultural influences behind that panel member’s responses, which includes those that are “fake.” Fake or not, we must consider all influences in analysis and recommendations if we are to offer good counsel.
It is a new era in research and planning, and researchers and planners must approach their work differently - leveraging data that exists, analyzing cultural systems, applying social theory - to name a few. Part of that is open collaboration, and to that end, Helena and I are building a community of like-minded thinkers to share thoughts, perspectives, and methods. Our first effort in this community is going to be a paper on trust - beyond the typical discussions we currently see. Stay tuned - we are hoping there will be much interest and the result will be a robust community that is fake...not.