The concept of trust: a millennial wraps it up for the Gen Z

No, I’m not going to talk about my past relationships again. Let’s suppose you’re in college, and it’s time for fun. But it’s not, you see: you’re supposed to apply yourself to the study of all the hard matters in the field of your choosing, and so you have thick books and essays to hand in. Nomenclature, definitions, debates in class that you took notes from. Eventual connections with theories you’ve read. An idea to search for a reference that your professor gave to the class in case they were interested, a mention on a slide whose name you thought was appealing, just like some kind of headline. You don’t get much of those, you prefer to keep your personal space. And it’s healthy. But you’re single, and you’d like to keep it that way — it’s been working.

A lot of people going through the college experience don’t realize that published studies are only mentioned when they have some kind of breakthrough analysis and conclusions, which point out to directions of future research, with a mindset of improvement that spans widely or creatively enough. To get there, you need to read carefully materials that, at least in American university culture, come with condensed formats: “look at all the knowledge I have and you don’t. But you know what? Maybe don’t look at it, just admit I’m smarter than you”. But it’s literally a reference you could easily grab and look into for yourself. There are libraries, free ones. There’s Amazon, of course. And while some people have strong opinions about the company, what it’s done for the publishing business is incredible, but deserves a longer debate. You’re not likely to find good sources on Academia, the website. That idea just flunked, pretty much like Cope and Kalantzis’ Scholar, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. You see, Microsoft wanted to influence research, and that’s good; but does it have to come from a leading tech company in the world?

What I did was I spent some time in the library, but most of all, I picked a good quote. And then I took a piece of paper, or maybe even the notepad. I wrote keywords, catch phrases and technical terms that I took out of my, uh, head. One of them was “participatory fluency”. In observance of student engagement dropping with the rise of social networks, I turned myself to approaches with smaller groups, adopted by most schools, and came to conclude that individual teaching had pros and cons. “One on one”: that was my initial trigger, all the way back in 2017. I hadn’t picked up the legal debate books, the philosophy compilations, the geopolitical analysis, the finance stuff. About the latter, it was mostly TV, because everything else was paywalled. It took me over a year to actually understand what those people were talking about. And I’d even watched classes at Yale available on YouTube, besides those Khan Academy videos, which helped me figure out, for example, what Vygotsky argued — I was gonna need that for my coming Master’s application. And I passed. But that story is apparently hidden from the public, and it is, at least to me, very enraging. I could’ve transformed education, or at least made my way up to become one of the presenters of an event associated with TESOL, the biggest ESL institution in the world (and they used to follow me on Twitter, which happened right when I joined). What stopped me was a desire to understand things not on a corporate level, where you focus on tasks, but instead, human narratives, interactions, interests, affinities, and the floating concept of desire.

You can’t find a single internet user who’s not succumbing to appealing content in media. And that can present itself in many ways. There was a time, a particularly long stretch, considering everything that happened on the platform, where I thought poetry was the right kind of content for Tumblr, the old go-to place for porn that wasn’t mainstream and didn’t mix up advertising with freaking cassinos or offered Russian webcams to watch. The Russians, by the way, are never very explicit, or not at all. You hear a playlist, and at the very best, see some tiddies and a tongue out. Nothing else. Meanwhile, gangsta rap in a language you don’t understand. But I digress. Sort of, actually: my last relationship had a crack on trust when I decided, for literal five minutes, to stop working on a translation project (which, I believe, was a very well-done job, about 130 pages long of a movie script) to watch a girl masturbate. I was having what they call acute respiratory syndrome, but nobody even freaking cared to diagnose it. I’m poor, I don’t have a specialist in pneumology to see how healthy my lungs are and to explain to me: “look, you gotta be careful about the smoking, but it does reduce anxiety. You just have to balance it with a good diet and you’ll be fine, but this is indispensable, as well as staying hydrated”. But I won’t comment on other trust issues in this relationship. I felt something very unique, but it turns out that she saw things in a completely different light; and I anticipated it, I knew all the philosophy and practice of the company she worked for, bottom down, backwards, flipped on a pancake with maple syrup or raw. She didn’t believe me. It doesn’t matter, because her work is probably what’s going to attract people not to this website, but to another, and I welcome that kind of competition, which probably pushes for innovation. I’m just not looking forward to sit in a bar with one of the clients, which apparently she was hoping for all along. Great girl, no need to mention names.

Online, though, everyone is a suspect. We can’t seem to trust anyone anymore, but our habits are kind of an indicator that we’re not even fucking trying. The new generation is: 1) judgmental; 2) mean; 3) self-involved to the point of actually marketing themselves, meaning on their Instagram and TikTok profiles, on purpose and very carefully; 4) busy expanding the network, just for the numbers, not for connections of value; 5) obvious trolls, lying every chance they get to have a screenshot to show the newest group of friends and make them block you too because you said this or that; 6) absolutely incompetent, because of their narcissism, to read anything legal; 7) not worried about your mental health, but quickly making up new profiles in case theirs is taken over; 8) vain, to the point where you wanna throw up or scream insults at your phone; 10) wannabes, in every category. How did I come up with all this? Well, that is called field research. Finest line of ethics a man could walk, and I’m not shy to disclose a leaning towards some of the genderfluid ideals. I could make a list of the things I looked for among the people who stayed with me in the last 10 years, looking for international contact. Trust would be a tag I’d attribute to few. Appeal would be a tag I’d attribute to many. Distrust? I’d have to apply that to almost all.

There are reasons why we can’t seem to trust anymore. Demand, baby. You’re offered new, better content. Of course you have to pay for the masterclass, the coaching session, the plan to start your business: whether it’s an educational project, a liquor shop or a music studio, it’s going to show up on your feed. But then you’re suddenly dealing with people, who curiously aren’t considered people anymore, but customers. On the personal side, “social media has turned us all into brand ambassadors of happiness and beautiful moments”, the DW documentary “Dictatorship of Happiness” says. That’s the bigger turn of social media: it’s not social anymore, it’s marketable. And marketable media has a lot of secrets — and you have a lot of catching up to do. Yes: social media became marketing. Fuck socialism, praise venture capital. But going further, we see reports that advertising is not exactly seen as a bad player: a brand’s identity is associated with trust on 84% of cases. You wonder who runs these studies, but of course you’re free to do your research. Sometimes, though, you won’t find what you did (that nobody likes ads), because they’re paying to remove negative reviews. Shouldn’t we be asking where those brands came up from, and how their ads were shown? That would reveal distrust, or at least irritation, from app users who don’t want their experience to be interrupted or peeked on by people wanting to sell things. But the real challenge, again, is how to make this clear for people seeking connections, which can’t possibly be marketed as an experience: this is life, not a computer game.

It’s true that our friends are judging us. Your romantic partner has friends too, and so it’s a complex interplay. Ideally, there would be a strong support network merging and potentially creating memories to keep, filled with joy and a sense of an accomplished mission at the end of a hangout with the people you truly care about. That is, if you’re not addicted to internet connections, or internet feeds. Being disconnected from what’s happening around you and focusing on what others are saying is not the ultimate recipe for maintaining good health, but neither is getting a fully live feed of news you need to know — unless you wanna bet on Post News, the newest thing. For a lot of people, it’s more interesting to see what your friends are up to, but you’ll be skipping on that stuff, most likely, and at best clicking twice with your thumb — and that is all the “support” you can give. Isn’t it natural that people notice? Isn’t it natural to expect more, and to request for more? You’ll also want to give more. Everyone wants trust to be mutual, because that is how we define trust: mutual expectations. We just can’t ignore the social gaps that, curiously enough, social media ignores by design.

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