Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Do-it-yourself brain surgery, anyone?

It's 12:01 a.m. and it's suddenly Wednesday, my day to post on Type M. I was going to dash off a quick lament on the busy and distracted life of a writer who is juggling promotional events and book tours on one book while trying to finish the first draft of the next while trying to have a life. The weeds in my erstwhile yard are not helping. Nor is the dog at my feet, waiting with her ball.

That would have been a nice short post. Such is the life of a writer, chaotic and fragmented at times, quiet and even lonely at other times, with an up-and-down pace that sometimes delights, sometimes terrifies, but always keeps you on your toes.

But to get myself in the mood for this short post, I read Rick's post on the vanishing, expendable expertise of photographers, who are being replaced by amateurs with cameras, and "freelancers" no doubt equipped with iPhones. And then I felt a rant coming on. I got to thinking about all the other experts whose knowledge base is being discounted and for whom respect is slowly eroding. Teachers, writers, financial advisers, even medical professionals, to name a few. People wouldn't try to fly a 747 jet without experience and training, nor would they operate on their own brain and drill their own teeth.

But it's astonishing how often people think they can learn the required knowledge with a few clicks of a mouse. People second-guess their doctors and seek alternative diagnosis and treatment from peer forums on the internet, from new-age pedlars of pseudoscientific rubbish, and from every kind of self-styled expert for whom there is no oversight and no accountability. They arrive in the psychologist's office clutching a fistful of printouts from online mental health checklists or snap IQ tests or other pop psychology quizzes not worth the paper they've printed it on. They think because they went to school or their children go to school, they know how to teach. Because they watch hockey, they know how to coach.

And what about writing? Professional journalists are being elbowed out by bloggers and "freelancers", respected professional reviewers by peer reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads. Eager but often inexperienced writers can publish their works online and sell them for 99 cents, thus avoiding the painful, humiliating but necessary process of seeking critiques, rewriting, being rejected and rewriting. With all this written material available for free, why should we pay for newspapers or magazines, or even books? Who needs that stuff anyway?

As Rick pointed out, organizations are no better. Genuine expertise is expensive. Often organizations think they can shave costs by hiring a teaching assistant rather than a teacher, a behavioural consultant or counsellor rather than a psychologist, a technician rather than an engineer. That's not to say there is no place for those jobs, nor that every task requires an engineer or psychologist, but by making those professions equivalent and by saying the higher level of expertise is unnecessary, we are devaluing knowledge and expertise, and undermining respect for excellence. Settle for mediocrity and sooner or later, we will have no experts left to light the way.

And precious few good books to read either.


jack welling said...

Writers compete with dead writers.

Chandler and Hammett are hard guys to beat in the crime world.

Fitzgerald is hard to beat in lit. (Only 844 days in Amazon's top 100).

Engineers I hire as consultants on an as-needed time-and-materials basis. Technicians are who I pay on staff. Tom Peters outlined this model nearly thirty years ago in _Thriving on Chaos_. Worth a read.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Barbara--I couldn't agree more. And mini-experts are swarming like flies.