Futuristic digital man, recovering PR guy, magic beansman, aspiring know-it-all. Chief Strategy Officer at Northern Army. More...

Why I don’t care about your opinion

If there’s one thing the internet has taught me is that no matter what the subject, no matter how serious, benign or esoteric, people have an opinion about it. And not only do they have an opinion, they are the keepers of the absolute truth, a truth with must be defended to the death.

Humans aren’t born opinionated. We’ve been taught to be like this. We’ve been told all our life that we should respect other people’s opinions. This notion is the epitome of bullshit, and has led to the state of discourse that we find ourselves mired in every day.

The internet and social media have their share of blame. The technological evolution of the past ten years gave everyone with access to a $100 phone and a data plan the ability to broadcast their voice to the world. It gave everyone access to all of the world’s knowledge in their pants – no longer does an argument have to last any longer than it takes to load Wikipedia.

But this false sense of knowledge fed by disembodied facts, this false sense of importance fed by Klout score and Twitter followers has given rise to a world where people view it as their right to have their opinion listened to, regardless of whether they know anything about the subject or not. Understanding is not a prerequisite to opinion. In fact, having an opinion is so easy with the glut of random data that we have access to, not having an opinion on any subject is seen as a weakness.

The most frustrating part in all of this for me is the lack of regard for experts that this culture of opinion has created. It has become commonplace for the uninformed to argue with people who have studied a subject for years and dedicated their lives to it as if their opinion was just as valid. Look at any comment feed on any major newspaper if there’s any doubt in your mind as to whether or not I’m right.

“But Ryan,” you might say, if you know me at all or have read anything I’ve ever written. “You’re an opinionated asshole. Doesn’t this entire post make you a hypocrite?”

Maybe. But though I’m opinionated, there are a few rules I try to follow. First, I try to be knowledgable about anything I have strong opinions about. Second, I try not to have strong opinions on things I don’t know much about. Third, I accept that my opinions, however strong they may be, may be proven wrong, and are subject to change. Finally, I realize that not everyone needs to know my opinions on everything. I’ll give them if they’re asked, but some are better kept to myself.

Here’s the thing. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but not everyone’s opinion has the same value. Accept that fact, and if you find yourself defending a point of view that you fundamentally don’t understand, take a minute, and just stop talking. You’ll seem smarter in the end.

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  1. I agree. There’s a distrust of expertise and we seem to have reverted to the notion that everything can be solved or explained with “these three rules” or horse sense. Everything is apparently simple and armchair pundits abound. People forget that the “rule of thumb” is often clumsy and hindsight makes all our our back-to-the-future advice sound genius. I think the recent financial collapses have amplified this distrust of experts and are also a great example of the prevalence of non-experts. Forget that the study of money is immensely complicated and that bankers are essentially financial scientists that have to predict what groups of irrational people will do in the future (and admittedly got it wrong). When a space shuttle blows up we’ll soon look to CNN comments for opinions on how rockets should be built. Non designers have words like skeumorphism, whitespace, and font in their verbal quivers and they’re not afraid to let those arrows fly. Kids are now experts on patent systems, people who’ve never left their cities are experts on immigration, and old white guys are experts on racial inequality.

  2. An interesting post, Ryan. And there are many opinions on both sides. However, I think you make the strongest point in the 2nd to last paragraph with those three rules for yourself.