Our Relationship with Tech Depends on Trust

By JJ Rosen March 29, 2021
Maps on Phone

By Atiba Founder & CEO, JJ Rosen; This article originally appeared in The Tennessean

Trust.  It’s something every relationship depends on.

Whether it’s with friends, colleagues, or significant others, relationships are doomed to fail without trust.

The same goes with our relationships with the technology we use every day—technology you can’t trust is all but useless.

My relationship with the popular GPS navigation smartphone app Waze began in 2013 when it was acquired by Google.  I had been using MapQuest and Google Maps to guide me around town, and for the most part, things were going well.  Rarely did either app lead me astray, and when they did, I was always quick to forgive them for their mistakes.

But Waze, with its combination of real-time data from other drivers, its crowdsourced approach to identifying everything from speed traps to potholes, and its powerful algorithms that seemed to always find the fastest route, was just too cool to be real. I was smitten, and Waze quickly became my trusted companion.

But just like any relationship, nothing is perfect in tech. Once the “circle of trust” is broken, it can be hard to get it back.

I was reminded of this when, after a year of barely leaving the house, I decided to take a road trip from Nashville to Springfield, Mo., with our younger kid for a socially distanced visit with one of his friends for spring break.

With Waze as our trusted guide, we headed up I-24 knowing the exact time we would arrive at our destination—life was good.

But then something strange happened.  Halfway through the trip, Waze told us to exit the interstate and head into a small town we had never heard of before.  Having faith in our good friend Waze, we found ourselves driving through residential neighborhoods, cutting across a dirt road, and seeing the dreaded “Recalculating Route” message every few minutes.

After 15 minutes of confusion, I decided to pull over to contemplate our next move.

“Waze is broken,” I said. “I’m going to turn around and head back to the interstate.”

To which my teenage kid replied, “Why?  You can trust Waze.  Just do what it says.”

Playing the role of the self-proclaimed wise father, I explained to my young kid that nothing in tech is flawless. All modern tech products, Waze included, have many moving parts – software, operating systems, connectivity, data, security. With so much complexity, random failures are to be expected.

Blindly trusting technology is a mistake.

My kid disagreed.

“Dad. I have been using technology since I was born.  I think your childhood tech scars have made you paranoid.  Just trust Waze and let’s move on.”

He was right about the past.  In my younger days, when computers were just gaining steam, things broke down constantly.  The Windows “Blue Screen of Death” crash was a weekly event, hard drives failed often, and today’s reliability of email, the cloud, and smartphones were unimaginable.  I even remember our cars breaking down on a fairly regular basis.

Now, idling in the middle of nowhere, it was a battle of the generations.

Reluctantly I drove on, obeying Waze’s every command.  As we traveled through a maze of small towns, I was partially hoping we were in fact lost (to teach the kid a parental lesson.)  If we ended up somewhere in Oklahoma, I was ready to lecture him that he must always “trust but verify” the tech he relied on.

And then, just like that, our destination was in view. As we rolled into Springfield at exactly the time Waze had predicted, I kept quiet while my kid held back a smile.

I conceded his view: tech is much better than back in “my day.”  Thankfully, its creators resisted the urge to program Waze to tell me, “I told you so.”

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