Please indulge me for a few moments while I rant. Yes, this is a RANT and yes, it is somewhat Meta (a first for me on OS).
But, good news, I am not going to rant about OS. I’m going to rant about Twitter. Well, not Twitter itself but all of the ”experts” on Twitter.
Background: I started using Twitter about 3 weeks ago. I’ve been observing and exploring it and have found it to be a great source for mini-doses (in 140 characters or less) of information and entertainment on politics, Web design, parenting, journalism and a whole host of other things that interest me.
Here’s the thing: as I’ve navigated around Twitter, I’ve come across dozens, possibly hundreds, of people calling themselves ”experts” in their 140-character Bio. There are real-estate experts, life skills experts, finance experts (hah!), and my personal favorite: social media experts.
Yes, what the fudge IS a social media expert? I mean, I know what social media is – Facebook, MySpace, Twitter are social media. They allow us to connect with others and establish relationships in cyberspace. But, it’s one of those terms that are fuzzy around the edges.
On the one hand, aren’t all media social? Even if they are broadcast or uni-directional, they still require a speaker and a listener? Is SMS/texting social media? Is blogging, including OS, which provides feedback and community?
On the other, what exactly are you an expert IN? the Technology? Applying it? The social dimensions of media - whatever that means?
So, take an evolving concept or industry niche without a clear definition or boundaries, hundreds of applications, and explosive growth, how exactly is one an expert in it? Moreover, these media forms have only become popular in the last couple of years and are only now coming into the popular sphere in the corporate space. How exactly did they develop their expertise?
So, using MySpace, Twittering all day and having a blog makes one an expert? What are they thinking? Oh yeah, and along with all the ”experts”, we can also find “gurus,” “mavens”, and “ninjas.” Get real, people!
Some more thoughts on Experts and possibly even some truths…
I wonder if it is partly a generational thing. Most of the folks calling themselves experts tend to be a couple of decades younger than I (and I’m in between GenX and the Boomers). It strikes me that they haven’t had the age or the experience to know this:
The more you learn [about X], the more you realize how much there is that you don’t know.
This is true about life, software, the Web, wine, most things I can think of.
Here’s an example: I use Photoshop in my work and for fun. It’s a fairly complex program and I’ve done the tutorials. I know the basics pretty well and do okay. But, as I use it, I realize there are features that I”ve never used nor do I understand. I see folks doing amazing things way more complex than what I can do. I could use it every day for 10 years, and there would still be brushes to explore, filters I haven’t mastered, and menu items I have no idea what they mean. Plus, all the new add-ons and utilities.
Bringing us to postulate #2 –
In the world of technology, as soon as you become an expert, the technology will change.
I’m not saying it’s not important to stay current or to retool. Not at all – ask any programmer. More examples: My husband was an expert (really!) in PowerBuilder, but that platform has fallen out of fashion. He retooled and learned .NET, VisualStudio, AJAX and whatever else they’re using at his client.
Once upon a time, I recruited SAP programmers for my big, important firm. We were offering minimum $90K with $20K bonuses to anyone who had more than a year of experience programming in it. Can’t imagine those guys getting that today.
Anybody know any COBOL programming experts out there? They were lucky; they got a brief resuscitation for the Y2K crisis, but then once again were fairly obsolete.
Alongside the social media experts are the Web 2.0 experts. Well, guess what folks? People are already talking about web 3.0 and 4.0. In short, you can be an expert one day and obsolete the next.
Postulate #3 –
Your knowledge can be broad or it can be deep, but it is a rare few who have both.
So, social media expert? Do you know ALL there is to know about EVERY form of social media? Can you help me use it to build my clients’ wine business? How about a financial start-up? How do I integrate Twitter into a Flash platform?
Real experts do exist. In plenty of fields. In my mind, these are folks who have studied or practiced in a field for years. They have (pardon my snobbery) published (in an established publication and not just on a Blog) on a given subject. They know more about it than 95% of the world and are generally regarded as the Go-To Guys or Gals in their field. They possess a level of expertise and knowledge that is deep (and/or broad), exceptional, and leave the rest of us speechless.
Are you one of those guys? No, I didn’t think so.
A final word on “experts”.
Maybe it’s the yogini in me or the Southern girl, but I find all this bloated self-promotion to be a bit, shall we say, “crass.” And, well, laughable when the expertise in question is so shallow to begin with.
I know, I know. The new mantra is all about ”establishing your own personal brand.” I don’t have a problem with calling attention to yourself or your work; it’s a necessary evil, I think, in our media-saturated world.
What I have a problem with is the OVER-INFLATION of self. An obvious corrollary: someone else calling you an expert is not the same as you calling yourself an expert.
Even the most practiced Yoga gurus consider themselves ”students” and/or simply ”teachers”. Most of the journalists, technology folks, and professors I know (including those here on OS) consider themselves observers, students, interested persons with knowledge in particular areas and even, Egads, expertise in some dimensions. Specific expertise in a field or a software technology is measurable and testable. But that is, to me, a different kettle of fish than pinning the label “social media” and “new technology” expert on oneself.
Making a living studying, observing, even mastering your art or technology or writing means you’re smart, you like your work, and you’re, if you’re lucky, successful. But it doesn’t mean you’re an expert.
And finally, postulate #4 –
Even the most Expert of Experts can be WRONG!
See Jim Cramer, Allen Greenspan, Suze Orman, Jerry Yang of Yahoo.