How do I know when I can trust someone?
If someone cold emails me and says "Hey David, I have a project you're really interested in, I'd love to chat", I'll likely ignore it. But if the same person tells me that same thing, face-to-face, at a conference, I'll happily take a meeting.
Something about an in-person interaction triggers my innate trust sensors. Maybe this is an evolved sense, inherited from my email-less ancestors. Maybe it's a consequence of growing up pre-Facebook. Either way, it is an informed conclusion. Emails can be effortlessly generated by computers. Past experience with Nigerian Princes has trained me to discount most online interactions.
I'm not alone, of course. As a society we lack trust in digital interactions. This may be logical, but it's also inhibiting.
Just as biases against marginalized groups in the US make it harder for those groups to prosper, our bias against digital interactions keep individuals outside of our physical communities from participating economically and socially.
As jobs become increasingly remote there's huge opportunity to include people from other localities who can bring advanced skills, new ideas and, in some cases, cost savings.
But biases will probably keep that from happening.
I used to work at Andela, a startup that outsourced talented developers from Africa for US based companies. The main challenge of Andela, like its competitors in Eastern Europe or India, was to get our clients to trust people they had never met in person. The developers needed us. They couldn't just reach out to a US employer and inquire about a role. They needed a trusted intermediary, paying in-person visits every few months.
I'd be so frustrated if this was the case for me. If every startup job I wanted was inaccessible without applying to and accepting a lower salary from a staffing company. If the only way around this was to travel 10,000 miles to bump into someone at a meet-up.
However, it's frustrating on the other side too. As mentioned earlier, there's a logical reason it's harder to trust a stranger you meet over email. In person meetings require significantly more effort than digital introductions. A bot, or a human assisted by a bot, can send a thousand intro emails in a second. Someone at a conference has sacrificed at least a few hours to meet the other people there. Effort demonstrates commitment, commitment builds trust. Since Andela I've worked with quite a few of my old colleagues on projects, remotely. However, when someone, possibly someone just as talented, sends me a cold LinkedIn message, I ignore it.
The people I work with is largely limited to the people I or a trusted friend have met in person or over zoom. A stranger isn't gonna stumble into my zoom call (at least not anymore), so the only way I'll meet strangers is if they are geographically near me. Lunchclub, helped me experience conference-like chance encounters online, but the people I met were largely the same kind of people I'd meet in person.
So what's the solution? I've been thinking about this a lot recently. How can we create online interactions that can be trusted in the way an in person interaction is?
Maybe a system where you can only send a few messages per day and you have to verify your identity?
Maybe a proof-of-work system that forces you to expend some time or money to communicate with someone?
Or maybe this isn't a problem at all? Or perhaps it can't be solved? Thoughts?