In a world where information is everywhere, it is important we understand how to determine a source’s worth. Not everyone is an expert, let’s stop letting them be.
With the advent of the Internet a number of issues have emerged, some brand new and others that had previously existed in micro levels across society but have now emerged more profound than ever. One interesting problem, furthered by the advent of technology and the easy flow of information, has blossomed to an issue of profound significance. This dilemma has taken root and it continues to infect anyone with access to a keyboard, a search engine, and an opinion.
The issue with the Internet is not the profound wealth of knowledge it has given us access to. No, indeed the issue is how this access to information has transformed our society. In a community where almost every bit of information is available at the intersection of finger and button, it means no one is ever ignorant. While dispelling ignorance is beautiful, the side effect of this is the extreme. When no one is “ignorant,” it becomes easy for everyone to believe they are an expert. With a majority of the world now being able to easily search for information that validate their viewpoint at the drop of the hat, everyone believes they have the power to speak on everything.
The blight that emerges from this is a culture that devours the opinion of experts, allows everyone to feel entitled, and devalues the worth of information. It takes time to become an expert on a topic. It takes hard work and often years of dedication to a subject or cause. Becoming an expert means fully educating oneself on an issue, practicing the principles you study in your daily life, and spending time looking at all facets of an argument.
There is a process involved in becoming an expert, a process that is longer than anything written in one book, one online article, or expressed in a few hundred words, let alone one sentence. In the past, because access to information was more limited, society used to value experts at a much greater level. We understood that some individuals were more competent on specific issues because they had dedicated a portion of their life to this craft. Presently, this is not the case. Look online if you need examples of this.
Through the Internet, everyone has been given access to all the knowledge they could desire. With this knowledge, more people than ever are standing on fragmented and crumbling soapboxes that have little to no foundation. The Internet has provided us the two crucial pieces necessary for the sad death of the expert; access to knowledge and a platform to voice opinions.
We can find anything online. The platform to voice opinions can be seen in any level of social media, comment section, or blog. In the most lengthy of processes, you must create an online profile and garnish followers before you can challenge an expert. In the simplest, and often times most readily available of processes, all you need to do is submit some variation of name, some fake contact information and you can leave any comment you desire on almost any article. In this comment, you can use the knowledge you believe you have acquired to challenge every aspect of an experts opinion.
Here is the damage in this: frequently individuals with a very limited wealth of information on a subject are providing a very vocal dissent and attack on experts with profound levels of experience. Someone will publish a piece only to be torn to shred in the comments with information that is easily refuted, easily contradicted and ill-prepared. Yet not every expert has the time to comb each comment section, fighting on the Internet is rarely effective and often times, people stop searching the second they find an opinion that supports their own.
Where many experts could easily rebut these types of offending comments, once these opinions are online, it does not really matter anymore. The saying “the loudest voice in the room is the correct one” too frequently applies. Experts spend years researching their subjects and hours writing their pieces but all it takes is one five minute attack to derail portions of their content. It becomes even worse when these fringe opinions are the more popular one. If you have ever wanted to see an experts opinion become invalidated, look no further than a boisterous commentator with half the facts and skill at creating engaging prose. The masses, especially those that agree with this external viewpoint, will quickly jump aboard this train of thought, allowing it to become their reality.
In addressing these issues, it be remiss to not note that not all experts are right. Dissenting opinions often exist and with good cause. Learning comes through healthy, productive debate and pitting two experts with validated opinions against one another is a powerful tool in cultivating new outlooks. The issue is not in these scenarios but instead when ill informed, undercooked and barely research opinions are given as much credence as others. There is danger in allowing webMD to replace the skilled diagnosis of a leading practitioner.
The key with this is also recognizing that some experts have earned their expertise but sadly, within the power of the Internet, others have simply utilized a manufactured persona to aid in a faulty platform. Not all experts are created equal and especially within the context of arguments online, it is important to understand where you are getting your information from. Sometimes, even the experts are wrong and many times, the experts deserve a healthy debate on their opinion. No expert is too high that they cannot be taken from their pedestal. The act of believing dissenting opinions should be verified however.
In creating healthy online communities for dissent, learning, and discussion, the importance of new thought comes from questioning- everything. It is easy to get caught up and buy into the opinions and view points that you might agree with. There is comfort found in sentiments that echo your own. While there is comfort in the familiar, it is important there is also challenge. Not every opinion is created equal and if you want yours to count, research and question. If you would like to become the expert in any topic read and educate yourself. Find out who the experts are then find out who the experts are on the other side of the topic. Read both sides and formulate your own ideas. Avoid the radical and polar in favor of finding middle grounds. Fact check then fact check the facts you just checked. Everything can be questioned.
Throughout our Internet and virtual communities, we have allowed an illness to creep in. We have created environments where the loudest, sometimes quickest, and often times the most crass are capable of guiding the conversation. Too often we allow the ill informed to act as pseudo experts in swaying the opinions of the masses. There is danger when every man believes himself to be the only man who’s opinion matters. If we are to survive, we must retake the title of experts, sometimes humbly admitting we do not know as much as we think and often times allowing the true experts to control the conversation that they have worked to study in the first place.
Not everyone is an expert, it is okay to admit our own ignorance. Not every expert is wrong simply because they disagree with us- growth lie in admitting our own gaps in knowledge. Not every opinion is right, if you feel firmly about something, educate yourself on all sides before drawing conclusions. In the struggle of feeling our voices should be heard we must be caution that we do not devalue the opinion of experts and that we do not become too arrogant in allowing our own ignorance to define conversations when in reality, sometimes we should just let our voice be silent.
Let’s retake the poise behind experts but in doing so we must be ready to admit our own deficiencies and flaws.