Historically, the truth was something absolute and not to be questioned. The church, priests and the catechism decided what was good and evil, ethical and moral, gender roles, how to raise children, work, freedom and love. No one questioned the truth – not out loud anyway. But during the enlightenment period of the 1700s it was no longer a given that the church held the only truth. Instead, science often came with alternative explanations of phenomenon and relationships. There were now two competing truths that were far from always compatible.
In our post-modern time, the concept of truth has continued to diverge in even more directions, we choose to call this truth inflation. Given all of the experts that exist in different fields, one would expect that we would have better facts today. The problem is simply which of these experts one should trust. Researchers, experts, politicians and journalists deliver a constant flood of information and news, which makes it challenging to navigate and find an objective truth. This becomes particularly clear if one considers that many of these fact intermediaries have their own agendas and reasons for presenting certain information. As soon as we accept an explanation that we find convincing, another expert with a diametrically opposed opinion surfaces.
When the volume of news and text becomes overwhelming, not only our evaluation of information but also the way that we receive it changes. The news is often clarified with short texts and video clips without depth. The scientist Arnaud Legout with the French research institute Inria claims that today’s media customer bases their opinions on brief news summaries – or even summaries of summaries. They often don’t have the energy for deeper analysis of actual topics, and as much as 59 percent of all links that are shared on Twitter haven’t even been read by the reader who shared them. People are more interested in sharing an article than reading it.
Our ability to determine what is real and what isn’t is continuously challenged. We know that pictures and photo models can be manipulated, but the next step in the development means that they don’t even exist as real people. There is now smart software with entire libraries of body parts in different positions. These can be selected and combined freely, where the fashion company can choose the desired appearance, skin tone, hair, etc. Then they only need to photograph the clothes and dress the virtual mannikins with one swoosh.
With artificial intelligence, even very realistic faked films and videos can be created. One example is the video clips that feature on YouTube where famous American politicians like Donald Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama hold confusing and strange speeches. Even if Trump has become famous for controversial statements, these cases have been constructed with the help of earlier video material and an actor’s speech and movements. The results are so realistic that it is difficult to tell that it has been faked.
As a consequence, there are many doubters that disbelieve most people who speak publicly. Richard Edelman, the CEO for the PR company Edelman, calls this an “implosion of belief.” In Edelman’s annual surveys one can see that in a global comparison, belief in politicians, companies and media is relatively low.1
It can be seen as a healthy sign that we have become more critical of information sources. Studies show that youth evaluate information on the Internet more critically than older people, which to a large extent believe that most of the information on the Internet is reliable.2 The reason is probably that young people learn how to evaluate information and how to determine what is true or false on the Internet in school. Young people most likely have more experience than older people as well when it comes to the negative consequences that social media can have when people share their lives with the entire world. They have seen and experienced how digital channels can be manipulated by different groups and unethical companies, and according to researchers they are better at identifying false information.
On the whole, we are approaching a situation where over time we are losing more and more of our trust. We are flooded with false news from troll factories, manipulated pictures and videos and sponsored content (native advertising). This trust gap between sellers and buyers is becoming increasingly difficult to bridge; it is not something that can be solved with a few discount coupons. The truth lies in the eyes of the beholder and has been replaced by personal interpretation, where everything depends on which perspective we assume. Instead of one truth, there is a mosaic of many small truths.
There are no truths without the small truths. The big ones have – just like the dinosaurs – died out. | Luke Rhinehart, writer
This is changing society into a world where there are no fixed foundations, where previous boundaries are being erased and where nothing can be taken for granted. Each of us must instead create our own role models and morals based on our own needs. Where there is no common world view, we must find our own meaning and context. We live our lives in parallel with each other rather than running on the same track. Navigating life becomes increasingly difficult when the common concept of truth deteriorates – the needle of the compass seems to be spinning in every direction.
The new paths for creating truth haven’t yet been entirely drawn. It is likely that allusions to fact will to greater degrees be forced to give way to more emotional arguments. This is a logical extension of the thought that our decision making is becoming less rational as a result of a preponderance of choices. Many are attempting in various ways to get closer to customers from a different angle than one of being an authority. They show interest rather than trying to be interesting. This is more about “von unter” (from below) than “von oben” (from above) – to humbly approach the customer from below, rather than approaching from above with the attitude of a bully. It is about shared passions rather than pitching. If friends and buddies are the people that we still believe, then it is a friend or a buddy that it is about becoming. Either directly or indirectly. As the classic maxim says, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
1 Edelman (2018). 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer.
2 Martineau, K. (2016, 15 June). New Study Highlights Power of Crowd to Transmit News on Twitter. [blog post] Downloaded 2018-10-22 from: https://www.datascience.columbia.edu/new-study-highlights-power-crowd-transmit-news-twitter