Trust and Technology in a Ubiquitous Modern Environment: Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives

Trust and Technology in a Ubiquitous Modern Environment: Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives

Dominika Latusek (Kozminski Business School, Poland) and Alexandra Gerbasi (California State University Northridge, USA)
Indexed In: SCOPUS
Release Date: April, 2010|Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 382
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-901-9
ISBN13: 9781615209019|ISBN10: 1615209018|EISBN13: 9781615209026|ISBN13 Softcover: 9781616923341
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Description & Coverage

In the past decade, trust has gained a prominent place at the center of academic scholarship in the social sciences.

Trust and Technology in a Ubiquitous Modern Environment: Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives provides a variety of theoretical perspectives on the topics of trust and technology, as well as some empirical investigations into the trust-building, trust-maintenance, and trust-destroying practices in the context of technology. It presents research positioned at the intersection of the issues of trust within and between individuals, and organizations, and technology under various guises, for example, high-tech work environments, computer-mediated communication, and the Internet as a business environment.


The many academic areas covered in this publication include, but are not limited to:

  • Business relationships in virtual environments
  • Group trust
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Online customer-firm interaction
  • Online relationship formation
  • Organizational coping strategies
  • Social trust
  • Technological actors
  • Trust in mobile transactions
  • Trust in online environments
Table of Contents
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Editor Biographies
Dominika Latusek is a professor of management and organization theory at Kozminski University in Warsaw, Poland. She conducts research on cooperation within and between organizations with an emphasis on trust and culture in high-tech industries. She was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, where she conducted field studies of Silicon Valley companies.
Alexandra Gerbasi is an assistant professor of sociology at California State University Northridge. She received her Ph.D. from Stanford University. Her primary research interest is how network structures influence the exchange process and the emergent sentiments of the interactions, particularly trust, commitment and emotions.
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The idea for this book originated from two observations. Firstly, ever since Fukuyama’s (1995) and Putnam’s (1993) influential books, trust has gained a prominent place at the center of academic scholarship in the social sciences. Scholars have claimed that trust serves many important roles in society, including a lubricant for social relations and economic exchange. Not only is trust key to satisfactory interpersonal relationships, but also for effective organizing, successful deal-making, as well as social and economic well-being (Barber, 1993; Fukuyama, 1995; Kozminski, 2009; Putnam, 1993; Sztompka, 1999). Scholarly interest in trust has intensified since the late 1990s as a result of the social, economic and political changes in the world. In the new, post cold war world order, trust has been seen as a primary component of social capital, and it has been viewed as a major key in creating stability in an increasingly global, democratized world.

Secondly, the omnipresence of technology in modern life makes it an important topic for academic exploration. As technology, in particular the Internet and associated tools became ubiquitous and gained millions of users, scholars quickly realized that we cannot discuss technology without bringing up the issue of trust. This became more apparent when problems such as privacy concerns, identity theft, hacking and cybercrime in general became a topic of heated discussions in the wider public, not merely among highly specialized groups of computer professionals.

On the other hand, users of the web know that the Internet, as an environment not limited by physical presence, may under some circumstances encourage opportunistic behavior and can be a fertile ground for dishonesty. Through sometimes painful experiences we have come to realize that our ability to control how technology is being used is limited. However, technology can create new opportunities to enrich human life and can increase social and economic well-being. In workplaces technology may encourage better communication and help build bridges between people that have never been able to contact each other before. But, it may also be used to put individuals’ actions under surveillance, to track employees’ movements and constantly record their activities. Oftentimes instead of building understanding and rapport between organizational members, the adoption of advanced technological solutions deepens the chasm between managers and their subordinates. Furthermore, trust issues arise not only in the areas of technology adoptions, but they concern technological devices themselves. For example, as personal computers, GPS transmitters or mobile phones become common and play a central role in our lives, we, its users, want to be sure that they are dependable and secure. Moreover, as we increasingly rely on the Internet, we also want to be certain that the interconnected environment that the web creates is safe and we are protected from fraud or abuse.

All these concerns, that we broadly term as trust issues are at the heart of academic interests of the individuals who contributed to this volume. The purpose of this collection is to present a variety of theoretical perspectives on the topics of trust and technology, as well as some empirical investigations into the trust-building, trust-maintenance, and trust-destroying practices in the context of technology. It presents research positioned at the intersection of the issues of trust within and between individuals, and organizations, and technology under various guises, for example, high-tech work environments, computer-mediated communication, and the Internet as a business environment.

There are many publications about trust and technology as separate constructs, but there are no sources we know of which focus specifically on the interaction of both of the phenomena. Studies on trust abound, but only a small portion touch on issues of technology. Similarly, in the studies of technology, trust is present but usually it is treated as a supplementary or side issue. Trust and technology, as far as we know, have never simultaneously been treated as central themes of research.

Trust has been a topic of study of several disciplines, including management, economics, sociology and psychology. Technology, in turn, is becoming an important subject of academic inquiry as various technologies grow to be ubiquitous in our lives, both in professional and private contexts. On the one hand, trust has been praised as an indispensable lubricant of social life and social relations on multiple levels and in diverse contexts. On the other hand, the role of technology in both private and business reality is increasing. Therefore, at the intersection of both, important new questions arise: how does technology impact trust-building processes? Does technology support or inhibit trust-building? What are the possible applications of new technologies in trust-building projects? What happens to trust when the mode of communication becomes more “technologized”? Does technology breed distrust? What are the best strategies of applying technologies to support trust building in society (generalized trust), between or within organization (for instance, in virtual teams and in high-tech professions) or in our interpersonal dealings with others (for example, in romantic relationships)? In what ways does culture influence the process of technology adoption? Also, while there have been some discussions of interconnections and mutual influences between technology and trust, there have been few empirical studies that would clarify the relationship. These issues require sustained investigation in various contexts and they are precisely some of the questions that contributors to this volume chose to address.

In research on the relationship between trust and technology there are both theoretical and empirical gaps. The role of technology in building or destroying trust begs for more systematic and extensive investigation. Currently two major streams of research can be clearly discerned. They can be distinguished by their view on how technology affects trust. One tradition treats technology as a variable that positively influences trust through democratizing access to information and making it more accurate, thus improving the performance of organizations and generally making exchanges smoother. The second tradition is more critical of the effect of technology on trust, arguing that technology undermines trust between people as it increases monitoring and instead of empowering people it can be used to control them.

The chapters in this volume explore themes inspired by these two traditions and the previously mentioned questions. They examine trust and technology in a wide variety of settings and at different levels of analysis. This helps to deepen our understanding of the interaction between technology and trust. It also allows us to assess the current state of research centered on the issues of technology and trust. We hope that this collection will stimulate further studies and thus bring us to a clearer understanding of the relationship between technology and trust.

In the world of technology producers, the need for trust is explicitly recognized by leading figures in the industry. For example, in a keynote address at Davos, Bill Gates states: “Although complete trustworthiness has yet to be achieved by any technology -- power systems still fail, water and gas pipes rupture and telephone lines sometimes drop calls -- these systems are usually there when we need them and they do what we need them to do. For computers to play a truly central role in our lives, they must achieve this level of trust.” From the academic point of view such claims, however, bring up an important question: can we actually “trust” the technology? Again, there seem to be two diverging perspectives. Sztompka (1999), for instance, maintains that people are the ultimate objects of trust. Therefore, if we say that we trust a certain application; we actually mean that we trust the people who created it. However, as Clifford Nass has consistently shown (Moon and Nass, 1996; Nass and Moon, 2000), people tend to treat technologies socially and sometimes ascribe to them human characteristics. If this is the case, then it would make sense to say that we trust a computer or a system. Nevertheless, we feel that trusting an individual and trusting a machine are qualitatively different. At the center of this debate lies the question of agency – while we can ascribe intentional actions (e.g. dimension of benevolence) to individuals, a machine acts according to some programmed protocols and it cannot choose whether to honor the trust placed in it.

We recognize that in a rather fragmented academic community there is a pressing need for more research that would bring together scholars from social sciences and technology-focused fields. One of our objectives when preparing this collection was to bring together scholars with significantly different backgrounds who share interests in the interplay between trust and technology. We are very happy to have gathered in this volume such a diverse group of experts – including business researchers, information system theorists, sociologists and communication scholars from both Europe and the United States. The interdisciplinary and international make-up of this group resulted in a set of highly diverse studies. They very across several dimensions: theoretical and empirical focus, conceptual underpinning, methodological approach (with quantitative, qualitative and experimental studies represented), specific subjects and objects of research, and the geographical areas and social groups where data were collected.

Organizing such a diverse set of chapters presented somewhat of a challenge. Eventually, we decided to open the collection with papers focused on theoretical considerations and then present works based on empirical studies clustered around three contexts: interpersonal relationships, adoption of technology, and interactions across organizational boundaries.

The chapters in Part I “Trust and Technology – theoretical approaches” set out a conceptual foundation for research presented in subsequent sections of the volume.

Clifford Nass and Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee give an extensive overview of Computers-Are-Social-Actors (CASA) research and explicate the basic principles of the CASA paradigm. Above all, they indicate that interaction with, or through, a technological device is a social experience full of emotions. In such situations, people tend to attribute an active role to the machine even if they “know” that they do not interact with real human being. The work reviewed in this chapter suggests that people do tend to treat computers as human beings and therefore assess their trustworthiness in similar ways. This claim offers one answer to the problem of the object of trust that we described above.

Then, Tina Gürthner and Guido Möllering turn our attention to the aspect of interconnectedness brought about by ubiquitously present technology. They argue that it is not the technology itself but the interconnection and interdependence it generates that creates an urgent need for trust in virtual environments. They call for a revision of much of what has been written on the topic of trust and technology and for a move towards a deeper analysis centered on the issues of interconnections, for this is precisely the source of our vulnerability in online activities. The authors review research that links trust and technology and conclude with an integrative framework for analyzing the phenomenon of online trust.

In chapter 3 Daniel Shank takes us back to the social interaction issues posited by the CASA tradition. His approach to the problem of trusting technological actors utilizes sociological research on structure and cultural sentiments. He advocates a wider use of sociological theories in analyzing relations between humans and technologies. Two aspects of this novel work merit special attention. First, the strong claim that the study of trust towards technological actors cannot neglect the cultural attitudes towards technology. Second, he urges us to pay more attention to the influence of social structure on how trust towards technology develops in various groups in society.

Part II is organized around the theme of interpersonal interactions in numerous settings: among prospective romantic partners, gamers in an online world, in the subculture of young people, and high-tech professionals.

Andrew Fiore and Coye Cheshire present a theoretical perspective on online-initiated romantic relationships. The practice of online dating constitutes a unique setting offering insight into the evolution of trust as relationships develop. They describe the trajectory of the transformation of trust as the relationship changes qualitatively – goes from the “virtual” to the “real” world. They also discuss the evolution of different types of trust as the relationship progresses – from institutional trust being important when the relationship is initiated to interpersonal trust gaining importance as people meet face to face.

In matchmaking and dating services the ultimate goal is a face-to-face meeting and is the ultimate transformation of “virtual” trust into “interpersonal” trust. In contrast the interactions in the chapter by David Boyns take place entirely online. Boyns investigates the issues of trust creation and maintenance in the online gaming community of “World of Warcraft”. Thanks to longitudinal ethnographic work Boyns is able to depict the intricate mechanisms that allow this exclusively virtual community to function smoothly.

Chapter 6 by Oren Golan is of a more general nature. Based on a qualitative study of Isreali youth Golan explores the process of trust creation in online interactions. He looks at the issue of trust building through the eyes of young people, and, following their lead, he identifies three components crucial for development of trust in virtual space (truth, disclosure, transparency).

Finally, Matthias Thiemann analyzes the work of freelance web designers in New York City. He points to the importance of personal experience in doing business online. Web designers, certainly representatives of one of the “high-tech” professions, face the challenge of building reputations in an exclusively virtual world. As it turns out, in the process of getting new orders, what matters for the web designers is either contact from the “offline” world or a network of references that, in the end, vouch for their trustworthiness.

The chapters in Part III touch on the broad theme of technology adoption. The studies in this section have particular relevance as their results can often be directly translated into advice for practitioners.

Blaine Robbins and Maria Grigoryeva examine the role that formal institutions play in the formation of generalized trust. Here, they argue technology has a mediating effect in the sense that – operating through institutional mechanisms - it encourages trust building. The results of the empirical study find strong support for the mediating role of institutions in the process of generating trust through technology. This has direct implications for various types of social transitions (both within organizations and in society) and suggests that more emphasis should be put on institution-building efforts if we seek to support generalized trust among individuals.

In chapter 9 Celeste Campos-Castillo looks at trust in technology through a status value approach. The proposed model seeks to explain how the status of social actors can be grafted onto the technologies with which they are associated and can be used as a basis for trust. Linking together two traditions – research on trust in technology and the sociology of technology she attempts to address the question of how the social and cultural frameworks in which one is embedded can translate into trust and then influence technology adoption processes.

The interplay between institutional and interpersonal dimensions of trust is the main focus of chapter 10 by Olga Morawczynski and Gianluca Miscione. They present an ethnographic study of the implementation of an m-banking (banking via mobile phone) application in Kenya, a rather unrepresented arena in social research. The observation of the process of trust building in an environment dominated by tribal affiliations and mistrust is particularly attractive for students of trust as we know that it is in unstable, changing environments lacking well-established institutional frameworks where social processes become particularly salient and observable.

The study by Sonja Grabner-Kräuter and Rita Faullant reported in chapter 11 encompasses a similar industry – technology-mediated banking, but in the dramatically different setting of the Austrian banking sector. The authors find empirical confirmation for the notion of internet trust and thus support the position that technology, indeed, can itself be an object of trust. As this research shows, there is no uniform concept of “online trust”. Rather generalized trust towards certain technology (i.e., internet) should not be confounded with a more particular type of trust towards a certain agent (i.e., bank) using the Internet.

Finally, Andrew Wong (chapter 12) presents an ethnographic study, conducted among poor young city dwellers in Bangladesh. It focuses on the prerequisites for sharing a mobile phone among a group of friends who otherwise cannot afford to use the device. Wong’s answer emerges from the field data: he argues that it is social trust that enables key emerging processes that together allow for the successful adoption of new technology. Collective use of a mobile phone is an excellent example of how trust within groups develops and, moreover, actually is a prerequisite for the successful embracing of technological novelties. This work also forms a bridge to the final section of this collection. It shows how trust plays a crucial role in the process of group formation, as well as how it supports bonding and the transformation of individual thinking into a group-oriented mindset.

The chapters in Part IV are centered on the question of how technology enables and constrains trust building within organizations as well as between an organization and its stakeholders.

Abigail Schonebom takes a critical stand towards the topic emphasizing the concept of “trust tension”. Analyzing cases of workbloggers she presents how borders between work-related and private spheres may become blurred with the use of modern technologies. Technology, she argues, adds to ambiguity in the workplace and creates a challenge for established practices of organizing. There are two dominant patterns that companies adopt to deal with employees’ blogging. Some organizations adopt an ideology of strict monitoring and surveillance. Other organizations, however, implement policies aimed at embracing workblogging and including it in organizational discourse. All these responses, eventually, have an impact on organizational performance, mainly through affecting group cohesiveness and employees’ identification with organizations.

Genoveffa Giambona and David Birchall (chapter 14) together with Anita Blanchard and Lisa Rashotte (chapter 15) are interested in the impact of technology on new forms of group work enabled by the web. Virtual work is increasingly popular in organizations as information technology has become widespread and easily available. This creates additional challenges for teamwork. Not only can team members come from different backgrounds, cultures and with varying experience, but in a virtual environment they can be separated by distance and time zones.

Giambona and Birchall argue that trust is a key component for virtual team-based organizations. Trust is said to supplement and replace traditional management systems based on control. The authors maintain that new forms of organizing, such as web-based teams, require adequate governance styles - in particular, more reliance on trust. They offer a conceptual model that allows managers to analyze virtual teams and enables them to determine the minimum level of trust that needs to be established to assure the smooth functioning of a team.

In chapter 15 Blanchard and Rashotte, in turn, focus on the internal cohesion of a virtual group. They distinguish key variables affecting group trust: sense of virtual community, entitativity, identity, and support. In their conceptual model technological features affect the commitment and attachment that lead to group trust. Therefore, of particular importance is the construct of identity technologies. They argue that solutions such as logs of members’ activities and signature files allow for the construction of both personal identity and group identification in a virtual environment.

The three final chapters focus on the relationship between commercial organizations and their clients. Denise Anthony and her colleagues (chapter 16) begin with the premise that the benefits of reputation systems for establishing trust online are limited; they usually only work well for closed networks. People who are outside of these networks can rely on two sources that “vouch” for the trustworthiness of online exchange partners: either interpersonal or institutional sources of information. They present experimental evidence that consumers tend to rely more on institutional sources of information, especially when they face great uncertainty about the vendor – as is the case with most first-time transactions. This has significant consequences for the organization of exchange online, as many existing marketplaces rely on peer recommendation systems.

In chapter 17 Kurt Komaromi and his colleagues continue the investigation of the interaction between trust and technology in commercial settings. Specifically, they examine three types of websites (a retailer, an auction site, and a social networking site) from the perspective of trustworthiness these websites generate among the young generation and how this trustworthiness, then, translates into shopping behavior.

Sandro Castaldo and his colleagues ask a different question about customer behavior in online environments. They are concerned that although customers often rely on information from the web, they still are reluctant to actually make purchases online. The diagnosis by Castaldo and his colleagues is that people are still afraid of the uncertainties posited by virtual marketplaces, mainly privacy invasion, and that these concerns outweigh the actual possible gains from the transaction. Their study finds that trust appears to be the only variable influencing customers’ willingness to disclose personal information to e-vendors, which suggests that, online vendors should put more effort into trust building initiatives with potential buyers.

Construed broadly, all of the chapters in this book examine problems and hopes for technology in the light of trust. They highlight some of the complexities and subtleties of phenomena related to trust and technology in a variety of contemporary contexts. Above all, they illustrate that the intersection of trust and technology still remains an underexplored area that can inspire further research.

As editors of this book we experienced the importance of both technology and trust in our collaboration throughout the process of putting this volume together. For the duration of this project we were separated by the Atlantic Ocean and we were avid users of modern technological devices. In the end, it seems important to realize that without trust in each other and without the support offered by modern technology we would not have been able to bring this project to a successful end.