David Heinemeier Hansson

March 19, 2021

A world without trust is not better

One of the reasons I've never cared for crypto currencies is that the associated utopia of trustless society had zero appeal to me. I don't think the world is better off by erasing the need to trust in our transactional counterparts, so turning these transactions into pure computing always struck me as a regression. (There are a million other reasons why I think crypto is kryptonite, but let's not even get into that.)

This theme came in my conversation with Aral and Laura yesterday regarding small tech, and the unique advantage that small brings to engendering trust. As Aral said, it's what made them comfortable picking HEY, even if that requires faith in our words to do right by their data.

People have rightfully become skeptical and cynical about how companies on the internet will treat their data. It's hard to trust when you've been screwed over time and again. And the dominant intersection of surveillance advertisement and venture capital means this skepticism continues to be well warranted.

But it doesn't have to be this way. And, really, it's better when it's not. Trust is good, but trust doesn't scale. You can trust people, you can't trust corporations.

I remember when we switched Basecamp's payment processing to Braintree. Yes, they had a nice API, their rates were good, but really, we switched to Braintree back in the day because of Bryan Johnson, the CEO. I trusted Bryan. He was in Chicago, like us. He responded himself. There was a connection. I felt like he wouldn't screw us over (and he didn't!).

I didn't have a relationship with Braintree the company. And now that they're owned by a faceless corporation, the trust is gone. We're still there because of inertia, not allegiance.

Which means trust isn't a commodity. It can't be transferred in a sale, and as I said, it doesn't scale. Trust is personal. This is a feature not a bug!

The world would be better off if more companies were kept at a more human scale where trust can happen. This is a key reason why so many people like independent shops. You can actually get to know and trust the folks who run them. This makes the transactions human, and therefore better. There's no minting that.

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About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.