Walsh’s Wonderings — When trust goes bust

Robert F. Walsh

Nothing screams “first world problem” more than the whining about Apple’s recent announcement that they designed iPhones to throttle their own batteries as they aged. While the flagship tech company put out a tone-deaf press release to quell the storm (it didn’t), it did little to remove the impression that they’d just been caught making their phones artificially antiquated in order to get their customers to buy new ones.

Things like this matter. Not because it’s Apple, and not because battery life is so important. Rather, it’s the idea that another institution in which we placed our trust has let us down. In the same way Russian interference in our elections signals the end of the naive notion “this could never happen here,” the era of trust is dying in America.

The ramifications are frightening. A few news outlets undermine themselves with shoddy or incomplete reporting, and suddenly the credibility of the entire Fourth Estate is called into question just when we need it most. Our commander in chief peddles in “alternative facts” while essentially accusing the head of the Justice Department and FBI of lying, and there’s no one left we trust enough to show us who’s right.

This isn’t a partisan issue; there’s more than enough blame to go around. The danger is that blaming is so much easier than fixing. It takes real ideas and dedication to push beyond the superficial and temporary comfort of scapegoats in an age when demonizing the “other” gets people elected.

Back when Steve Jobs was still above ground, Apple products sold at a premium because they were well-vetted. Apple products were the result of genuine innovation and rigorous testing before they ever reached the market. Today’s Apple treats consumers as unpaid beta testers, content to release “fixes” to problems that inevitably come to light soon after each new product hits the stores. Apple seems to have taken a page from the Microsoft playbook: Why pay for all that quality control when the end user will do it for free?

Apple products were always more expensive because of the implicit understanding that we were paying for quality. Now that this trust doesn’t outlast the packaging, we’re left with the realization we’re really paying for the echo of a certainty that no longer exists. Instead, we’re supposed to be happy paying $29 instead of $79 for replacement batteries in phones that render themselves unusable after two years.

It would be easy to dismiss things like this as insignificant if they weren’t so indicative of a larger problem. When we lose trust in the government, in public health and public schools and the institutions upon which this country was built, we traffic in a skepticism that dooms all efforts to work together to fix the things that are broken. We’re left to walk around the wreckage instead of clearing a path to something new and better.

Here’s hoping 2018 will find these institutions more deserving of our fragile trust.


You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.


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