Browsing my Google+ stream this morning, I saw this brief note:
Watching questions to +Steven Levy at Newport Beach Public Library talk fascinating, underscores how little general public knows about Google. Lots of misconceptions.
Not sure why, but the thought struck me strongly. The technology industry is EXACTLY like the agricultural industry. Google is part of the #bigtech crowd, what they do/know is starting to scare the general public, and no one really has any clue how today’s technology really works.
If your in agriculture, this sounds familiar right? I think we sometimes overdo the “generations removed from the farm” concept. The real issue is folks don’t understand technology, or agriculture, and therefore they don’t trust it. This hits me strong because I feel like these are the very two industries I do understand the best, and I see things completely differently. So it made me pause and consider a couple of industries I know nothing about: healthcare and education. And I realized I have the exact same trust issues.
Specifically, in healthcare – I trust my local doctors, probably because I know them personally. However, as anyone knows there’s a growing movement out there that does not, and hence the entire “alternative medicine” business, that is only very weakly based on science, and much on emotion. But I’m not immune to this lack of trust. A few years ago, I dealt with kidney cancer. After two operations four years apart, I’m walking around with one less kidney. When the first scan came back that the mass had reappeared after the first operation and a second was needed, my emotions ranged from “is business just slow for this doctor and he wants to operate?” to “maybe things are a lot worse than he’s really telling me?”. In reality, in either case, I simply didn’t trust him and a big part of the reason was I had no clue what was going on.
Secondly, in education – I think I’ve mentioned my children attend a small private church-affiliated school. I serve on the school board as well, so in such a position I see a lot of material from many sources “distrustful” of the public education system. I’ve been guilty of those same thoughts at times, but I’ve learned over time that really it’s the same problem. Education is an involved, intense business, there’s a lot I don’t know or understand. In education I don’t think it’s as much a technology issue as the challenge of providing a good and proper education for the large diversity that exists in today’s population. But the lack of trust in something we don’t understand can be the same. And I absolutely believe there is very, very few people in education, from preschool through the most prestigious universities, who’s objective is intentional harm to my kids or spend my money foolishly, yet there’s a lot of distrust that exists.
At the risk of being mis-understood on many levels, I want to make a key point. I think in any of these areas – what we eat, health care, technology or education I have observed that one’s faith can often be used as the reason for taking a given position. I consider my Christian faith the key component of who I am, but I do think there can be a strong tendency to say it’s a “faith” issue, when in reality we just don’t just trust people or things that we don’t understand. I certainly make choices in any of the above industries because of my faith and my view of the world. What I want to stress is that for myself and I believe most of us, the real issues we struggle with is a lack of trust, and it has nothing to do with what our faith may be. If that seems really confusing, feel free to question me in the comments or privately, I’m not sure I did a good job of explaining my thoughts on this point.
What made this whole idea of trust strike home is this – I’ve met lots of people in the agriculture industry. There’s folks with lots of different motives, desires, purposes. But I cannot think of a single one who I think has any intent in trying to actually harm someone, which is what all the agriculture critics claim is happening all the time. Now, lets be realistic, those hurtful people exist, fortunately it seems their usually trying to pursue a life of full-time crime rather than take the effort to infiltrate a solid industry like agriculture, healthcare or technology. And the bad apples that are out there? The entirety of human history tends to demonstrate that we have a rather poor ability to separate out those that are trustworthy from those that are not, so I think our very best approach is to trust from the start, until proven otherwise, and than give plenty of second chances. After all, that’s what we would want others to do for us.
Maybe my concluding thought is this: There’s nothing unique about modern agriculture’s struggle with connecting with the general public. The exact same issues seem to exist in most other modern industries (I didn’t even mention things like energy, or the industry of government :) It seems to have very little to do with being “generations removed from the farm” and a lot to do with a lack of trust trait we all share combined with a high-tech complex world in which we live. As we consider how to better connect and share our agriculture story, I think the core issue is trust.