Most advice columns offer tried and true practices, and they are soothing to us, but they also limit our options, and often render us complacent. Rhoda is about possibility; I approach the questions I receive and the answers I deliver as inventions. My theory is that all of life is a story we tell, which in some ways makes everything very easy. If you don’t like what is happening you can always rewrite the story. So in this column I pay attention to the narrative elements of the question, and I pen answers that create new spaces to walk into. I hope to give readers the experience of coming upon an undiscovered room in a house they have long inhabited and thought they knew every inch of.
Information is so readily available these days. How does that change what it means to be an expert?
Society has traditionally defined the “expert” as the person with authoritative knowledge to whom one turns when one is in search of answers. Nowadays, as you say, information is so widely available via the internet that people are both inclined and empowered to find the answers to their questions themselves.
But that is all about raw data. You can look up a symptom that is troubling you and find a range of possible diagnoses, but what you don’t have access to is the combinatorial know-how that the expert can bring to bear on your specific condition from the integration of what her hands, eyes, emotional center, and mind apprehend. Analogously, you probably won’t learn to ride a bicycle from reading about it, and you are unlikely to get coaching that is tailored to you without a pair of expert eyes watching you.
So, I think the modern expert is defined by integrated knowledge, the kind that knows instantly how to ski the upcoming mogul, or perform Paganini’s Caprice for the joy of it, or can feel a dog’s illness in his hands, or gives a homework assignment to a family in therapy that turns the whole system around, or sees what’s missing in a research design. You can’t find answers to questions like these in databases, and often you won’t get them from the people who have the degrees that name them the experts.
It has probably always been so that the expert who is both knowledgeable and highly sought after lives, walks, and breathes his subject. His expertise is integrated into his cells’ consciousness, so his right hand knows what his left hand is doing, his emotions and his mind are teamed up, and his legs signal to his brain to leave that mogul to us. And thanks to the internet, it may be easier nowadays to separate the know-it-alls from those who truly walk-the-talk.
Photo by Steve Rhode via Flickr.