This book is permanent: Musings on trust in the 21st century

I went for my usual Saturday morning constitutional, a walk into town, coffee (lots of) and a browse through the charity shops, I think they call them thrift shops in the US. Probably only to be found in the “West”, I can’t remember ever seeing one in India.

And I bought a secondhand copy of Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illustrated by Gustave Dore, published by Dover. While savouring the full-size engravings over coffee, I glanced at the Dover statement on the back cover….excerpted here: “Books open flat for easy reference. The binding will not crack or split. This is a permanent book.”

This is a permanent book. What a wonderful statement. And I realised that for forty years, I have trusted Dover as an imprint and a publisher. I have memories of my earliest schoolboy Pillow Problems and my Sam Loyds being Dovers.

Now I have no idea who owns Dover, how many people it employs, what it does. What I do know is that I trust Dover, and I will often buy Dovers even when I’ve never heard of the author or the subject. Just because it’s Dover.

The same happens with Kirkus Reviews. If Kirkus say a book is good, then I buy it. Period.

Again, I have no idea how big Kirkus is, who owns it, whatever. I just know that when Kirkus says it’s good, I tend to agree.

I trust Dover. And I trust Kirkus. And this trust has been gained over a long time over a large population of recommendations. These examples are about books, something I grew up surrounded by, something I remain immersed in, but probably irrelevant to the next generation of workers. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be and all that jazz.

This whole episode of Coleridge and Dore over coffee then made me think about that next generation, what their Dovers and their Kirkuses will be. So here are my musings:

  • They peer into the future
  • Unlike our generation, used to centralised reference points and quality attributions, the youth of today rely on aggregated peer reviews and ranking. Distributed rather than centralised, networked rather than hierarchical. And they are used to interacting peer-to-peer
  • Their world is flat
  • We’re used to paying by the yard, by the pound (yes I am showing my troglodyte nature). More and more, they’re used to flat fees. Not transaction pricing. Unlimited use. No hidden charges. No creeping taxes crawling out of the woodwork.
  • They’re always on
  • The DSL Tivo iTunes Messenger mindset thinks differently. They don’t do dialup. They don’t switch things off and on, they switch themselves off and on. But the things stay. And they’re a mobile generation, used to doing things on the move
  • They don’t lock doors here*
  • They’re used to easy access and egress, and have little tolerance for things like format mismatches and compatibility checks.

What have these things to do with trust? I guess I’m drawing a warped line from values and experience through to expectation, and suggesting that the only things they will trust are those that fulfil those values and expectations. And somewhere in the dark recesses of my head, I can’t differentiate between their expectations of a firm that wants to employ them, a device they use to experience entertainment, an institution that helps them learn. All the same to them.

So to win them over we need to get with the program. Theirs. And the Dovers and Kirkuses of their generation will be the firms that meet that expectation. Peer-reviewed and recommended, not Mcluhan-advertised. No hidden costs or charges or lock-in. Supporting mobility and always-on-ness.

*A variant of one of my favourite lines from one of my favourite movies: Local Hero. I just love the scene where the young upstart turns up very late at this pub in the middle of nowhere in Scotland, starts banging on the door and waking everyone up, and the landlord finally puts his head through the window and says “We don’t lock doors here”.

I want to live in a world where we don’t lock doors anywhere.

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