The (diminishing?) importance of expertise today

In the olden days, students working on school assignments had to visit libraries to conduct research. If they used to come across any concept that they used to have difficulty with, they would try to consult the most commonly sought-after expert in the field. However, this is not the case anymore. With the rising popularity of the internet, we have a vast database of information right at our fingertips. We do not have to take the efforts to visit experts for their critical insight anymore. It is thus reasonable to wonder that to what extent the Internet has affected the value of expertise.

One school of thought holds that the rise of the internet has not diminished the value that expertise has in our lives. Many issues cannot be solved by just checking it on the internet. Let me give you an example of this. As a child, I fell sick in winter. Excited at the thought of trying to diagnose what I had myself, I googled my symptoms. I then walked up to my mother and told her I had pneumonia. She just laughed at me and took me to the doctor who told me that it was just a common cold. Other examples of complex issues that require the help of experts are law and economics. If we have to check out some legal information, or decide which stock to invest in, we would rather talk to a person who is experienced in the field than surf the internet on it. One major reason for this is that the internet is an open space with no filter whatsoever on the type of people publishing online content. A seemingly unbiased site (that in reality is funded or supported by the company about which it provides information) has a vested interest and is thus biased. In order to get truly uncontaminated information, we would rather consult an expert in the field who has nothing to gain from promoting or demoting a particular company. A machine can thus not replace the value of the critical insight that experts have to offer. Therefore, I fully agree with this perspective.

 

On the contrary, another perspective on this issue is that expertise is unimportant today, since we can find all the information we require online. This perspective holds that as long as we possess the critical thinking skills required to understand and analyse the information on the Internet, we do not need experts. I completely disagree with this perspective. Let us take the example of a twelve-year old student trying to learn something new at home instead of at school. He could sit in front of his laptop and google what he wants to learn. Yes, the internet will then show him all possible content on a particular topic. However, he still requires a teacher to show him how to go about learning it. The internet has no filter.  It will show him information that is also shown to a twenty-year old college student. Thus, a teacher- an expert in the field of education- is required to show him the magnitude of difficulty that he can understand at that age, and can help him understand where he is going wrong.

Another school of thought holds that the internet is a blessing in disguise since it gives all of us the chance to become experts in a particular field without a formal education.  I feel that calling ourselves ‘experts’ on reading about something is too extreme. Yes, the internet does give us all the information we want on a particular topic, but being an expert requires the right balance between knowledge and experience. Theoretical understanding of a particular topic is very different from its practical application. All of us could very well read an article on how to perform a heart surgery, but if asked to perform one, we wouldn’t be able to, and thus we are not ‘experts’ in that particular field. Therefore, I disagree with this perspective.

In conclusion, I believe that no matter how vast the information on the internet is, experts still play a crucial world in the understanding of this complex world. The internet could be used to refer to a particular topic, but it will never be able to replace the value of an expert’s critical insight.

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