Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Anti-Social: The Case for Shutting Up and Not Sharing

I miss the good ole' days, when we didn't share everything. Life was simpler, we actually used libraries, and we largely kept our opinions - so often ignorant and ego-driven, yet now broadcast to the world - to ourselves.

Yesterday Netflix asked me to click and share my movie choices on Facebook.  Why would anyone possibly care about the movies I'm watching? See, my opinion on movies is worthless. I enjoy LifeTime movies because I like simple, linear plots that offer virtually no chance of confusing me.

Now my friend, a professional videographer who works as a skilled technician for Disney, has been making movies his whole life. His brothers make movies professionally, and his entire family is highly creative, intellectual, and watches movies with an insightful passion. Follow his movie choices, not mine!

I try ... I really try ... to keep my mouth shut in areas where my opinion has no actual value. I don't want to add to the problem and the clutter: All information channels these days are packed with useless, often mind-numbingly dumb information.

The recent Boston Marathon bombing media coverage is a clear example of opinions run amok on a large, consequential scale. Reason Magazine points out that there was a theory for every crowd and taste less than four hours after the explosion.  No facts were known ... in fact, three days later the investigation is still "wide open."  Initial news coverage seemed to cater initially to ideology as much as it did to securing and explaining the facts.

During this orgy of speculation, the media zeroed in on "the man on the roof."  Who was this mystery man up on the roof, staring down at the explosion?

A few hours later the "mystery" was solved: A man, living in an upscale apartment, was watching the race from the well-furnished rooftop.

I use the Boston bombing as an example of experts getting it wrong, because if professional journalists at the pinnacle of their profession, some with decades of experience, struggle to cover a story properly and add comments of real value ... then what is your (or my) opinion worth on the average topic?  

There exists a clear hierarchy of opinion, in terms of that opinion's relative value to the conversation, issue or topic at hand.  And this hierarchy is being tossed aside, with potentially serious consequences for our kids.

My first problem with this issue of "everyone's an expert" is admittedly kind of visceral and emotional on my part: We have enough people shooting from the hip, on every conceivable issue under the stars, without raising our next generation to spout off in lieu of actually knowing / understanding any facts.

But the real problem here goes deeper than kids mindlessly shouting down peers, or the growing swamp of annoying public Facebook arguments based on emotion rather than reason. When "expert" loses its meaning, and everyone's opinion counts equally, then we devalue the opinion of actual experts when it really matters.

What's one example? Hmm. How about nearly every teacher in this nation believing that standardized, nationalized, heavily emphasized testing is a bad idea ... while most of the nation rushes toward this very goal? Do parents have any idea what the teachers in their kids' schools think about standardized tests?

How did the opinion of teachers become so devalued, and why would anyone listen so closely to politicians on the particular issue of testing, when general public mistrust of politicians is at an all-time high?

Not all opinions are created equally.  If you want an opinion on testing in schools, ask me - not a politician. Better yet, ask my mentor ... she's been teaching three times as long as I have, and she is recognized by the community as a highly skilled, reflective teacher. Travel upward, inside the hierarchy, and the value of the opinion you seek will grow.

 Just don't ask my opinion on movies.  Every movie on this "Top Ten Worst LifeTime Original Movies Ever" list looks pretty darned good to me.   Honey ... get the popcorn, I know what we are doing tonight!