Wanted: Experts – No Experience Required

I have been thinking about something a lot lately that is nothing new…it just seems to get worse and worse with time.

As the internet becomes more social and less of a resource, we are seeing the emergence of more “internet experts”. Whether it be bloggers writing about subjects they have no experience in or friends on your friendly Facebook wall turning into a heated political debate, the social internet has now given people the ability to say things online that they would never say in person…at least not with the grander and force they do digitally.

We are now in an age where everyone sees themselves as an expert in a specific field because of their ability to research their passion through their favorite sources. This creates a certain amount of hostility online as these “experts” butt heads over what they feel is right. But…just like the experts that think they are right…the sources they quote can be just as biased and misled.

Another example…

As many of you know, we had our first kid last month. I am sure we are going through the same thing most new parents do…the ultimate search for the perfect way to raise your kid. In the pursuit of perfect information, we scour the web and books looking for the “expert” to tell us how things are done and what we need to do next. However, what we find is that no one is on the same page on anything! They can sooth themselves at a month…no wait…not until a year…6 months…3 months…can’t all of you guys just get on the same page?!

This has brought me to the underlying conclusion that you can find whatever you want to read at the time.

  • Are you having a hard time getting your kid to sleep? Then the book that said one month must be wrong and the 6 month one must be right…because that is my experience. (ours is down for the count at one month…and we are grateful for it!!)
  • Do you feel like you lean more to the conservative side of politics? More liberal? You are going to read the sources that you connect with.
  • Have friends on Facebook that are saying what you want to hear? Think you’ll listen to them more than the ones that are saying what you don’t at the time?

Now days…everyone has a voice and the answers online can bring us to a state that we forget to think for ourselves.

Before the age of the internet, we had books and other resources, but the massive volume of information was not present. Now…before we do anything we head to the computer asking The Google what to do next. We forget to stop, think and assess the situation. We completely forgo our gut instincts to trust people we don’t know or ones with zero experience in the specified field.

The internet does a lot of amazing things for our daily lives, but our trust in self proclaimed experts that arose from the ease of publication of information has brought many people to a state that they no longer adapt and think for themselves. They don’t question what they read or try to adapt and change information to fit their lives. Objectivity is going away as blind faith in information is taking over.

It as almost as if the internet put up a wanted ad for experts in fields that have zero ability to talk about things rationally.

While this article might seem like a rant (and it is in someways), it is more about challenging you to question and actually think about what you read online (including things I write and say). There is no right answer for everyone. Everything in life needs to be thought out and interpreted as your life is not the exact same as your neighbors.

That said…we have to be willing to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. I do believe a lot of the trust we give to people that are providing the answers we want to hear stems from not wanting to mess up. We then have the ability to say someone else was wrong if it doesn’t go right, or we can then take credit if it works and push that same ideal on others. Some of the greatest rewards in life come out of what we learn from the mistakes we make. We can not let that fear run how we make decisions.

The internet is a great source of information…when used correctly. It is up to you how you process the information on the screen whether it is from a friend or an article on a website written by someone you don’t even know. How are you going to adapt as information overload continues to expand in our lives?

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Trevor Chapman November 17, 2011 - 5:45 pm
The trouble with the internet is that there seems to be a new "guru" every week telling us to do this or that. My advice, take everything you read with a pinch of salt until you feel you can trust or respect that person, do what feels right to you and most importantly learn from your mistakes. Good luck with the baby, mines 4 1/2 going on 14 now and i'm still looking for the instruction manual:)
Robb Sutton November 17, 2011 - 6:05 pm
Trevor...you are dead on. I think too many people give internet content power it shouldn't have before being proven. Even if they had a manual...as guys we probably wouldn't read it!
Philos Mudis November 17, 2011 - 6:10 pm
My hard drive is almost full of info...I try to get as much info about a topic as I can....looking here and there...and getting my hands on a few books that I can find.... But I can say that I spend a lot of time on Google and Wikipedia too. I usually go to Wikipedia to read people's biographies and learn from them This hasn't taken my freedom to think for myself though.
Robb Sutton November 17, 2011 - 8:47 pm
Keep that freedom to think! I believe there are people that are scared to.
Jake Woldstad November 17, 2011 - 6:19 pm
Hi Rob, Great post! I'm 6'8", so does that make me overqualified for the position? On a serious note, though, I read an article a while ago that made the point that newbies argue techniques and details while true experts argue about concepts/philosophy. In an effort to differentiate ourselves, we need to be careful about prescribing one path to a goal at the expense of a plethora of counter-examples. We need to pay attention to what aligns with our experience, but be open to evidence that shows where we are wrong.
Robb Sutton November 17, 2011 - 8:47 pm
You're hired!!! You nailed it. There is never one road to take that is the correct path for everyone. We always have to be open to being wrong.
alan shortt November 17, 2011 - 8:40 pm
yes I agree - my own first forays into the internet and the blogosphere were tempered somewhat after reading the cult of the amateur and the shallows its interesting you draw on your parenting experiences to illustrate your points - my own area of interest is medicine and here (as elsewhere) we have the problem of bone fide experts Traditionally you'd ask 3 midwives or health visitors and get 3 different answers - (from super nurse PhD, nurse seen it all and full of practical grounded experience, nurse newly qualified and keen but not yet an expert, nurse who's maybe let things slip a bit over the years- ok thats 4 but you get the picture) The only guru most (relatively healthy) people got to access about "health issues" would be their Primary Care Physician or the Readers Digest Family Health Manual - the latter on occasions being a more reliable source than the former - especially if a recent edition! At least in the field of childcare you could find a wall of books in your local Borders or whatever - browse, see if the content resonates and seems credible and read the reviews or preface nowadays patients, parents, med-students and physicians alike go to google or wikipaedia first. This is not as you say wholly a good thing - the informed and perseverent consumer can find some truth eventually - but not always on the first page. For busy clinicians and proto-clinicians the potential hazards may be even greater. It's nowadays suggested that passive absorption of knowledge from traditional experts may not be the best way to inculcate the critical skills of thinking for oneself, evaluation and synthesis to cope with the tsunami of expanding and ever-changing medical knowledge. This has lead to the embrace of so-called Evidence-Based Medicine for clinicians, and Problem Based Learning for students. Both of course worthy and necessary concepts when done properly - but both paradoxically having the potential to undermine the aims they seek to achieve Students - all these great intelligent enthusiastic young minds (to paraphrase someones comment observation about google adwords) spend the time they would have spent in lectures or small teachings googling or searching wikipaedia. meanwhile established clinicians do the same and reasonably through expediency accept the first "authoritive" source they find as always - somethings lost and somethings gained - its a hard (impossible) circle to fully square - life is short - but clearly we need to try to find a way through it all (to illustrate the problem I often use the example of a consumer oriented site's entry about an anti-fungal cream I prescribe almost daily. In concise easy understandable terms aimed at the public it still contained more medical information than I'd hitherto drawn upon in my daily prescribing - and more in fact than I remembered learning to get through my microbiology exams!)
Robb Sutton November 17, 2011 - 8:46 pm
I was actually going to reference "internet doctors" as I like to call them that try to diagnose friends and give treatment recommendations on Facebook as an example as well. You are hitting on that at an even larger level and I can't imagine how doctors deal with people coming in these days saying..."well...I read it was this...or my friend on Facebook said this". It has to be more than irritating.
alan shortt November 17, 2011 - 9:39 pm
well it works both ways - at first many docos were indeed irritated by such things - i guess many still are - but my own take is that the imperative/conclusion is to try to be at least as informed as the patient where possible so you can discuss things with credibility and legitimate authority rather than just dismiss it or get irritated - which might of course mean "feel threatened" another favorite example I heard at a lecture went something like this "the guy the local chip shop (you have these?) came in and politely asked me - so Doc, I'm on this statin and my cholesterol is ..whatever... shouldn't I be on this drug instead according to the latest European Heart Society Guidelines?" we all laughed knowingly and nervously but the point is - this has got to be a good thing - difficult as it may be in practice ? the right answer to your original question might be - well Dr Spock said this, Dr Green says that, mumsandbabies.org says that, but as my grandma says what the heck do they know? which is I guess where you came in!
Evan November 17, 2011 - 9:49 pm
One aspect of the problem is values. People raising children have different values - creativity, intelligence, obedience and so on. They look for experts who share their values, so the situation is a bit less confused than it may seem. I think the internet has made it clear that information is a commodity (though this has really been the case since cheap printing was invented more than a century ago). My hope is that this leads people to check the advice of 'experts' against their own experience. I think this would be a very healthy development.
Robb Sutton November 18, 2011 - 1:38 pm
Agreed. But I think people also tend to take the easy route and sometimes that equates to finding the information they want to hear instead of hearing what they don't.
alan shortt November 17, 2011 - 11:17 pm
I agree - that's what I meant by "resonates" and the reference to my grandma post-modernists suggest (i think) there is no truth - only values. Experts - be they scientists, social workers economists, politicians or other spiritual leaders might scoff - whilst being ignorant of the value considerations given by their own poster-boy predecessors be they Karl Popper, Einstein or Jesus Christ Again as you say, whether guttenberg, those quaint old windy up duplicating machines, Xerox or the internet - this is nothing new in principle just in scope. My own personal value-perspective makes me think it was more fun and innocent back then - you could publish a pamphlet or "fanzine" and interact directly with people who may or may not agree with you (or buy it) but enjoy the experience - but who am I - a grain of sand returning to post-modernism - maybe what it means is the first generation who know about everything how the world works - knowledge sets us free and always has done - but it might be overrated every modern generation must think they are living in unique times looking at Shakespeare, the Bible, or the Greek poets gives some insight into the universal truths of human nature which were presumably shared by cavemen now we know too much and the rate of acceleration of information/stimulation overload may be exceeding the rate of change of human evolution - not necessarily a problem per se or anything special in the grand scale of things - there may be a global repositioning / equalisation of human potential/consumption as a result -(or maybe not) - but along the way we transients may be reduced to passive consumers of information devoid of a context of values
Graham Hull November 18, 2011 - 1:15 am
I thought that I had a point to make but I have been distracted by the aforementioned , which has been very interesting to follow ! And tough to follow....here goes . On the contrary , the internet for many has been liberating ; the reliance on expert opinion when seeking professional assistance , for example , can be stifling . Being prepared and willing to question the accepted and sometimes flawed wisdom of the day is , I believe , healthy and empowering . Certainly in the UK , being an expert has /is equated with being a professional and the class association with this has helped these groups ( of which I am a part) to create a mysticism or aloofness . The internet has been a great leveller enabling non-experts to cut through a lot of crap and to pose a ' soft' threat or challenge to those who may have become somewhat complacent . At the same time the gleaning of information without the structure or rigours of real , dynamic learning or academic discourse is not really enough to make someone an expert , or is it ? The double edged sword for me of the amazing proliferation of information via the internet , is the light to the fire of learning that it canprovide , whilst at the same time endangering our trust of our own instincts . I clearly remember delaying leaving the hospital when my first son was born and the fear was overwhelming , as we made the walk to the car with him in his carrycot . I / we had not read the manual ! Guess what there isn't one - you get on , trust yourself ( and your partner) and utilise the threads of wisdom that have been passed down , subconsciously , through the generations . Wine also helps . Good luck !
Robb Sutton November 18, 2011 - 1:37 pm
I think it all boils down to empowering our willing to think for ourselves. I see people get stuck because they want to do it perfectly...or they feel they might make the wrong choice. So they continue to research until...eventually...all they are doing is researching and not trying. Action is what makes changes in our lives and worrying about whether or not we are going to be perfect based on our research can be debilitating. There is a challenge to the "status quo" right now as there are more people that claim to be experts on the internet than actual experts. As you say, this was a good thing to start as it challenged actual experts to rethink their strategies and be better. However, the pendulum needs to come back some and quality needs to go up. I think we can do that by better evaluating our own thoughts and actions and rely more on our ability to make decisions rather than just following who we agree with that day.
Shane November 18, 2011 - 2:19 am
Good thoughts Robb...I wrote something similar but my angle was more to the point that because you can get anything you want online (information that is) then it also lowers the barriers to who can claim to be an "expert" and that also leads right to unethical businesses that crop up all over....It's as if you can now spend an hour or two online absorbing information and then you start a business based off that new expertise...
Robb Sutton November 18, 2011 - 1:32 pm
You are right Shane...there is a ton of that. Low barriers to entry in any industry cause the same scenario...but in the internet world...it spreads like wildfire.
Paul December 7, 2011 - 5:27 am
Hi Rob I agree There is a dozen ways to be right the important thing is to take action. Knowing if you are makeing a few mistakes you are learning and getting results. Actions beats just a good idea sitting in the draw or on your gaols board .
Dave Doolin December 25, 2011 - 10:44 pm
Being an actual, bona fide, credentialed and referenced expert in a particular field (totally unrelated to anything internet) gives me interesting perspective on the so-called expertise many bloggers, SEO and social media consultants claim for themselves. To wit: Real, expert authority is never self-awarded. Nor should it be. @Jake: As noted by Omar Bradley, amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics.
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