The Uselessness of the Instant Expert

David Appell takes Matt Ygleisias, his readers, himself, and the entire blogosphere to task in a memorable rant.

He’s got a point: instant experts on any issue can be worse than useless, especially on difficult subjects — such as drought in the Southwest — that require more than an hour’s reading to understand.

Why am I wasting my time reading this? Nothing Yglesias wrote there
matters to me in the least. Nothing about it teaches me even the
slightest thing, offers the slightest insight, solves even the smallest
problem. I would be far better off reading anything by John Fleck or
Charles Bowden or Colin Fletcher or or even Edward Abbey. It’s only
designed to get him some hits and maybe an appearance on MSNBC some
night, and then tomorrow it’s off to stories he’ll cover equally
vapidly.

And anymore I’m finding the entire blogosphere like
this. Even what I write. It takes weeks and months and years to
understand situations, to write from anything like a position of
expertise. You don’t get it by quickly flying out to Aspen and back, or
by reading an article from the Brookings Institute or from Harvard’s
321 course on Environmental Philosophy. It takes blood, sweat, and
tears, it takes going out and looking at rivers, pouring over
government reports and spreadsheets, hiking to the tops of mountains
for the big picture, calling 25 people a day — precisely the thing the
blogosphere does least of.

So I am wondering why I am reading it
any more, or why I am even writing meaningless tidbits in this blog
(and that’s all they are). Or why anyone is reading. Is this seriously
the future of this magnificent medium? It would be a full-time job to
really blog about a few serious issues on a particular beat, and who
can possibly attract 125,000 readers a day and support yourself doing
that?

But I disagree, for this reason. We live in a soundbite society. As pollster George Barna told me: "We hear the Federal budget is three trillion dollars a year and we want to understand that in fifteen seconds."

Given this vast chasm between the facts and the willingness of the American public to face them, the blogosphere performs a vital function — an experiment in how to bridge the gap.

Personally, I think a big part of the answer is more visuals and less snark.

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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