The life of the mind in the age of Web 2.0 suffers, in many ways, from an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise. Bloggers are called “citizen journalists”; alternatives to Western medicine are increasingly popular, though we can thank our stars there is no discernable “citizen surgeon” movement; millions of Americans are believers in Biblical inerrancy—the belief that every word in the Bible is both true and the literal word of God, something that, among other things, pits faith against carbon dating; and, scientific truths on such matters as medical research, accepted by all mainstream scientists, are rejected by substantial numbers of citizens and many in politics.
Human beings learn, essentially, in only two ways. They learn from experience—the oldest and earliest type of learning—and they learn from people who know more than they do. The second kind of learning comes from either personal contact with living people—teachers, gurus, etc.—or through interaction with the human record, that vast assemblage of texts, images, and symbolic representations that have come to us from the past and is being added to in the present. It is this latter way of learning that is under threat in the realm of digital resources.
The flight from expertise is accompanied by the opposite of expertise—the phenomenon that Andrew Keen has called, in his new book of the same name, “the cult of the amateur.” This cult, says Keen, “worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer. It suggests that everyone—even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us—can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves.” He is referring to the impulse behind Web 2.0, but his words have a wider resonance—a world in which everyone is an expert in a world devoid of expertise.
Interesting reading. I hope to have more thoughts once I have time to digest this.