The Thin Line Between Trusting and Self-Delusion

Chris Brogan is, if not a new media god, then assuredly a prince-in-waiting. Unpretentious and wildly prolific, there may be higher quality bloggers out there—but they put out one-tenth of what he does, and his quality:volume ratio is good enough that I nearly always read him.

So what if a popular blogger like Chris puts out a spoof—an April Fool’s day blog—and no one picks up on it?

That’s what happened, twice in a row. First, he posted “Get More Twitter Followers—Today!” an infomercial-type get rich quick genre spoof. In case anyone didn’t get it, he followed up with 10-no-4 Days to Become a Social Media Expert!

And—you guessed it—apparently these two posts were huge hits. Chris is partly bemused and partly seriously wondering why. (Now, Chris is no dummy—of course he knows why. He’d just like to see fellow-bloggers like me spell it out in various ways. OK Chris, here’s my take).

Are People Deceived? Or Are They Delusional?

On the face of it, there are two theories why people would over-react to these blog titles.

Theory 1. People trust Chris Brogan and, holy cow, if he says so, it must be true!
Theory 2. People trust anyone who’ll promise them get-rich-quick schemes—they are sadly self-deluding.

The truth is, as usual, all the above, and a few more. You can chalk it up to naievete, or the triumph of hope over experience, or the enduring ego-centric belief that god is uniquely talking to us and us alone in providing these windows to opportunity—I’m not sure the reason matters.

The point is: it’s a thin line from trust to self-delusion.

Is the Decline of Trust Vastly Over-reported?

Hearing of an obituary having been published about him, Mark Twain famously wrote that “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” I wonder if the same may not be true of trust?

We’re all familiar with the headlines of declines in trust among professions, government, business and other institutions. I don’t disbelieve them; but at the same time:

  • Are you using your credit card more online these days to purchase goods? Someone is. Has their level of trust in online commerce gone up?
  • Are states gaining more revenue from lotteries than they were four years ago? (I can’t find data more recent than 2007—someone else?). If so, does that mean we trust state government more these days?
  • If Chris Brogan’s blog stats go up when he promises instant karma, does that mean we’re now in a post-Madoff economy and more easily trust online promises of fame and fortune?

I guess what I’m getting at in juxtaposing these data is that first, measuring trust is a bit like weighing fog. You know there’s something there, but by the time you get your hands around it, much of it has burned off in the sunlight or condensed on the measurement instrument. Measuring longitudinal trust on the same question with the same audience seems to work; beyond that, I find it hard to draw many conclusions from comparative studies except at the grossest levels.

Secondly, the human capacity to BS ourselves is quite remarkable. We’re all quick to decry others’ obsession with get rich quick schemes. But there are an awful lot of “others” out there, and some of them look a lot like us.

And it’s hard to tell the difference between sensible trusting and insensible self-delusion.

Me, I clicked on Chris’s first link. There, I said it. And I’m still not clear why I did it. Do I trust Chris Brogan? Or am I a self-deluding fool?

Don’t forget about answer "d. all the above."