Knowledge Darts Vol. 15: The Death Of The Expert Opinion
"I mean, look at who’s in charge of the country for God’s sake!"
I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen takes from supposed experts on varying subjects that make me question everything. Time and again they repeatedly say things that only illustrate how little they know about a particular field, discipline or space in which they’ve inexplicably been given a position of authority. What’s worse is when you consider that they were allowed to climb through the ranks without ever having been vetted in any way, shape or form. In the age of blogs and social media it’s fairly easy for someone to build a platform without ever really being scrutinized.
When I was in the music industry, I constantly had to answer questions. I was quizzed, drilled and questioned at every turn about my knowledge base and background in music before even being trusted to do entry-level things like carrying records. Before I could be hired to work at a record store I was run through the gauntlet and had to demonstrate knowledge of things that happened way before I was even born. Before I could even got a job that paid minimum wage I was vetted so thoroughly you’d have thought I was a political candidate.
This was back in 1998 before people could use search engines to find everything. Back then, each employee had to be their own Google. Nowadays, that’s no longer a necessity so people tend to gravitate to whomever points out things for them to like, watch or listen to—either they’re too busy to do this for themselves, or it makes them feel better to like whatever some “tastemaker” likes. It’s almost as if knowing too much intimidates audiences.
In the age of real time social media everyone rushes to either build a brand or get above the noise and stand out from everyone else. The quickest way to do so is to appeal to the masses or cater to a wide audience. Shock posting, trolling and clickbait are all more effective methods of building an online audience than the sort of original content that take a gang of man hours in terms of research, planning, writing, editing and revising. The idea of doing this much labor on the off chance it might yield little-to-no results has totally lost its luster in the era of immediate gratification and On Demand content. Factor in the impact of being 20 years deep in the age where critique can easily be misconstrued for “hating” on someone, and it’s easy to see how we lost the willingness to subject someone to any sort of rigorous vetting process before letting them enter a space or a discipline.
There are numerous people in the world of new media who never had to face any serious obstacles before reaching the level of status they attained—merely because they never had to be tested first. Once they’ve reached said plateau, they end up appearing on television or in print as an “expert” authority. At some point shortly afterwards they’ll let a hot take fly or say something completely inaccurate and ahistorical then hide behind the excuse that it’s their opinion. As this column has previously established, while everyone is entitled to their opinion, if said opinion isn’t an INFORMED one, then it holds very little weight. Once they get called out or critiqued for the gaffe the excuses instantly begin flying in a desperate attempt to reduce the damage—but it happens again and again. Note the fact that reputation and reliability have little to no bearing on said person’s position. That alone should tell you that something is very wrong with the current system.
I remember back when things began to change due to the growing speed of communications technology. The dominos fell one by one. First, sites like Amazon and Half.com began digging into the overall profits of box stores over the 1998-99 Christmas holiday. Next, P2P sites dug into record sales, hurting the RIAA, record industry and further crippling music retailers beginning in June 1999. The week after Napster launched, Google got a huge injection of VC funding. Not long afterwards people began searching things online both out of curiosity and convenience, as a byproduct the knowledgeable staffs at the now dying record stores and video stores were being replaced by pretty people who just needed to be able to search things in databases. Once the Dot Com Bubble burst in March 2000, many more people were out of jobs in both retail and tech searching for a new in or outlet for their creativity.
DSL and Broadband cable became the norm by 2002, allowing everyone to be online 24/7. The more time people were able to spend online, the more they could build their online personas. The advent of social media sites and blogs made it possible for people to have a sustained presence in cyberspace and grow their influences through multiple platforms while meticulously curating their images. Things that were perceived as more substantive began to fall by the wayside as people tended to focus more on surface things, enticing many people to post other people’s profile pictures to avoid being judged or mocked. Alternately, many users avoided delving too deep or being overly critical of people online out of fear they’d face the same scrutiny. This led to an odd phenomenon of accepting mediocrity which grew more and more with each passing year.
Back between 2004 and 2007, the blogosphere made it possible for those who had no access but did possess the necessary knowledge base, expertise, and insight to have a sustained voice and make an impression on certain audiences. The period that followed between 2008 and 2010 opened the floodgates and those who had a specific specialty or appealed to a particular audience gained favor with corporate interests or secured brand deals. Once Twitter was introduced as a microblogging tool, anyone could weigh in on a subject just like those in the traditional media and the critic’s mystique was washed away in real time.
Before long, television news began reporting things that were posted on Twitter and print media suffered because of the speed of social media and the 24 hour news cycle. The problem with this speed is that information flies too quickly to be verified or fact-checked. Since being first takes precedence over being factual or accurate, journalistic standards are essentially disregarded. This practice spread like a cancer throughout every imaginable medium. The authentic expert opinion was pushed to the margins in favor of those with bigger online presences or celebrity status and could better uphold the status quo, rather than provide accurate information or any real insight.
The lowered bar for entrance led to a bunch of mediocre critics that made the job seem easy. Since the new goal was to become a “tastemaker,” “curator” or “gatekeeper,” very few saw the need to put in the time to become an expert since there was little reward in it, neither in terms of recognition nor financially. I’ve been let go of multiple sites in favor of things that would bring in more site visits or ad revenue like Twitter reactions or celebrity gossip over the years because the fact of the matter is a badly written online article might bring in more site traffic than an excellent one would due to hate clicks. If we keep all of these things in mind, there’s no question why the expert opinion has declined in value over the past 15 years. I mean, look at who’s in charge of the country for God’s sake! An idiot.