I have a habit of reading interesting things, but then a few days later wanting to touch on a specific point in whatever it was that I read, only to have forgotten where I read it. That leaves me having to recount the thrust of the post or article without the context that probably made me want to talk about it in the first place.
This time around, an article I had read mentioned something about being an expert. It was regarding how we don’t think we’re good at anything because we don’t feel like an expert, when in fact our interests are constantly forcing us ever deeper into the subject matter. Through osmosis, we absorb details and facts, and don’t even know we’re learning because we’re personally driven to consume more and more. Here in the West, the word “learning” usually equates to decades in our broken school system, sitting in uncomfortable chairs and being talked at while we memorize facts. If nothing else, we learn that learning is painful, an unhappy alternative to staying home and playing video games or hanging out with our friends. That’s why when we doggedly pursue our interests it doesn’t seem like learning; it seems like passion.
So there’s that setup and a bit of editorial exposition, but the point I’m after is that often times once someone translates something for you, you lose the blinders that prevented you from understanding that you’ve actually been improving yourself through what you’ve been doing. This is an opportunity to step back and assess your experience from a 10,000 foot vantage point and see the steps you’ve taken, to consider what knowledge you’ve gained, and to realize that while you may not know everything there is to know on a subject, you have actually become somewhat of an expert simply through sheer force of will.
I’ve often tried to think of where my expertise lies, and in all honesty I cannot put a finger on a single thing. I don’t mean that to say “I feel I’m an expert at many things”, but rather “I don’t believe I’m an expert at anything.” This is something I’ve understood for some time, actually, when I look around at my peers in this community. For example, I’ve been gaming for decades now, but my pattern is one of flight and indecision as I jump from game to game in search of a new experience. Meanwhile, others are able to stay put for longer, and as a result throw themselves more into the guts of their current experiences. I don’t bother learning the depths of any game I play; I learn enough to progress, but never enough to excel the way I see others doing. Maybe that’s because I know I won’t stay very long, or maybe I don’t stay very long because I treat every game as a shallow, moment-by-moment experience.
While I might blame my chase of the New, after reading whatever article I read that started me down this path, I thought about it from a different angle. Assuming I did stay with a game, how would I feel? And based on that feeling, what would be the outcome?
The answer I came up with was that I would feel bored, eventually. Past posts might lead you or me to believe that my predominantly solo gameplay experiences are to blame, whereas my group experiences were tethers that have kept my interest for far longer. Maybe that’s a part of it, sure, but digging deeper and deeper, this post is the key.
The Internet loves facts. Sorry, “facts”. Many folks believe they have the answers because having answers means having knowledge, and any PSA can tell you that knowledge is power. One opposing facet of facts, then, is opinion, which is a personal point of view designed around our own nature and nurture life experiences (which do include facts, at least as we believe that we understand them). Facts lead to expertise; opinion leads to…what, exactly?
That is where I fall in the spectrum: closer to the “opinion” side than the “fact” side. My posts here are 98% opinion. They’re not all closely related to fact either, just a lot of theories and philosophies applied to the geek community. The carry no weight and have no authority behind them. I’m just some guy on the Internet doing what the Internet can’t stop me from doing, but trying not to be an asshole about it.
I rarely think of anything in terms of “facts”, which I’m coming to realize, and I think that is preventing me from becoming an expert in anything. I’m an OK developer. I’m an OK gamer. I’m an OK blogger. I’m an OK parent, an OK husband, and an OK friend. But I’m not very good at any of those things, at least not to the point of being an “expert”. I’m sure someone would point out that, really, no one is an expert, but I disagree because thinking like that tends to assume that to be an expert implies that there’s nothing else to learn, or that someone knows so much more than everyone else that they have achieved a state of wisdom that transcends mere expertise.
To me, being an expert means that when presented with a situation, there’s no conflict when choosing which path to take. That decision is based on facts, numbers, rules, and experience. An expert has the right tools for almost any situation, and knows which tool to use for which job. An expert is a reliable source of information, and is willing to share his or her expertise with others.
This opens up a whole can of “expert versus Internet expert” topics that are just so far beyond the scope of this post that I can’t even, but thinking about what I know, and how I approach subjects, I realize that I tend to take more of a philosophical approach than a fact-gathering approach. That kind of bothers me for a few reasons. First, I’m limited in what I can achieve if I only learn the surface facts necessary to get the job done. Second, opinions don’t get us anywhere except possibly in trouble. Third, not pursuing expertise puts me way behind others in terms of participation, leaving me at the far back of the pack while others find ways to level more efficiently and consume more content because of it. Thinking of my posts in the past in light of these points, my tendency to put philosophical thinking ahead of good old fashioned know-how is very much a part of my feelings of disconnection from my peers.
So, what can we do? I’ve been trying to keep the nose to the grindstone with Project Universe, and my posts here reflect the kind of drive towards expertise that I am generally lacking. But it’s development, and while I’ve been developing for many, many years now, I’m entirely self taught. That leads to massive gaps in knowledge which force me to learn what I need to know to tackle the task at hand, but not necessarily the why behind it. Still, progress is progress. When it comes to gaming, I need to really find the strength to buckle down and investigate on my own. To take time to experiment and test theories to find the patterns in the outcomes. I could read guides, but that’s too close to the slippery edge of “Internet fact” for me; plus, learning through trial and error is a better way to learn, IMO.
Of course, knowing what to do is different from actually doing it, so I need to figure out a way to get on task and stay on task. That’s the difficult part, and might be the linchpin in my whole philosophical trauma.