The Age of Instant Experts

Pretending to know and actual experience aren’t the same

Photo by Rita Morais on Unsplash

Welcome to the age of instant experts.

Bloggers who have been typing on the internet for five minutes call themselves professional writers; grifters with zero training and just as many credentials bill themselves as lifestyle coaches; parents become medical experts overnight thanks to Dr. Google.

As a result, we spend hours wading through clickbait looking for informative content.

Those desperate for relief from mental or physical pain are being exploited by unscrupulous fellow humans who see them as an easy mark.

And previously eradicated diseases like measles are making a comeback because parents refuse to vaccinate their kids based on some spurious hypothesis they read on the internet.

And yet, neither enthusiasm nor hubris can ever make up for the knowledge and experience acquired over years of study, practice, and single-minded dedication.

Should a stay-at-home parent with no medical background whatsoever enjoy the same credibility as an infectious diseases Ph.D.? Or rather, which of the two should we trust when it comes to public health?

As wannabes insist on standing alongside professionals, and the media lap it up because controversy sells, public opinion gets confused. Facts no longer matter as much as the ability to tell a good story and sell it, and expertise loses out to tall tales and cantankerous braggarts.

Unlike bona fide experts whose work benefits society at large, imposters are only in it for themselves.

Misrepresenting oneself is now the ultimate shortcut to status, financial gain, or both.

Why fudge your résumé when you can become an expert?

When capitalism and individualism prevail, this is no longer a bold move but routine.

Ordinary people turn themselves into brands complete with taglines every single day for profit.

It’s no longer enough to be a human in the world alongside everyone else. Now you must become someone, a celebrity worthy of admiration and big bucks.

And so we market ourselves aggressively to our peers. Because this is the only way to secure the validation our lack of knowledge and experience would otherwise render inaccessible to us.

Worse still, some of us end up believing our own hype after a while.

There’s no better example of mediocrity passing itself off as greatness than the current White House tenant.

Such behavior happens at all levels of society.

Afraid of dishonoring a good impression with your lack of self-confidence or creativity? Why not pass off someone else’s ideas or words as your own and hope no one notices?

Plagiarism is a scourge, and yet the practice remains popular, the pet peeve of academics and editorial professionals the world over. It’s perfectly acceptable to use quotes with attribution, but omit quotation marks and the name of the author and you’ve just committed intellectual property theft.

The handwritten dedications in two books I once received as a gift sounded so profound and relatable I was impressed. However, the discrepancy between this person’s usual command of English and their eloquent wisdom soon got me curious.

On a whim, I turned to the internet and found the source in one click: a TV show. But because I don’t have TV, am mostly impervious to pop culture, and don’t watch much of anything online, my guess is that I was never supposed to find out.

Coming from someone I looked up to, this made me feel sad and cheated, all the more as they knew my relationship with the truth is not a flexible one.

As long as we favor a competitive mindset, we’ll never feel good enough.

Such is the drive to be the best and to impress that stretching the truth is now frequently mistaken for an essential coping skill.

And no one is better at this than politicians, as a former colleague of mine reminded me a few years ago.

Back in the late ’90s, we both worked in news for the same public service broadcaster in Britain. Although part of newsgathering operations, our unit was separate from the newsrooms. At the time, there were three: one for domestic radio in the same building, one for world service radio in another part of the city, and one for television in yet another location. We all communicated via an internal tannoy system and squawk boxes.

Imagine my surprise when this colleague, now turned local politician, referred to their work in the newsroom on her website. Although on the same floor as one of the newsrooms, our unit was never even newsroom-adjacent, a fact no one who worked there then wasn’t constantly frustrated with; we ran a lot between the two.

This deliberate embellishment of truth gave me pause for thought about their ability to represent their constituents with integrity.

I wish I knew why the person who gave me those books and my former colleague felt the need, albeit minor, to embrace deception. Both are highly accomplished individuals with extensive experience in their fields. They have a strong presence, sharp wit, and the ability to establish an instant rapport with anyone. In short, their personality speaks for itself.

The more masks we don, the harder it becomes to forge genuine connections with fellow humans. And we also run the risk of losing our sense of self amidst lies we must constantly keep track of.

How can we ever trust someone to be who they say they are if we all pretend to be someone or something we’re not?

Alas, as Tom Nichols noted in The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters:

“Americans no longer distinguish the phrase ‘you’re wrong’ from the phrase ‘you’re stupid.’ To disagree is to disrespect. To correct another is to insult. And to refuse to acknowledge all views as worthy of consideration, no matter how fantastic or inane they are, is to be closed-minded.”

Post-truth isn’t just a media catchphrase anymore.

How do we fix this, and do we even want to?

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