If you want my advice…

I’m of the growing opinion that the Communications Age, and the Internet in particular, have democratised the giving of advice – but not in a good way.

There was a time when, if there was anything about which we required counsel or advice there were quite specific people we’d turn to – for medical issues, it was our GP; problems around the home, we’d consult a specialist… Plumber, electrician, builder etc; where family were concerned, we’d keep things within the family – granny always knew best; and, for affairs of the heart, you couldn’t do better than confiding in your close friends.

Today, it seems, we’ll take advice from anyone, happily taking on board whatever Octoman53 on Yahoo Answers tells us. Google has become our best friend advising us on everything from heart palpitations to how to fix leaky taps and broken hearts, and we’ll happily take the counsel of total strangers, without qualm, whether they’re qualified to give it or not. Even when it’s unsolicited, the world and its wife wants to give us their advice: Responding and commenting to everything the internet has to say – “I really love your blog – have you thought about improving your search engine ranking?”, or “STFU, why don’t you jump off a cliff and do us all a favour?”.

To me, seeking advice off the internet is akin to walking into a random pub and making a general announcement, “I caught my husband pleasuring himself with my hair straighteners – what should I do?”

I do find myself wondering about the quality of advice that people seem happy to rely on – “I find the best way to freshen up tired eyes is to rub raw onion in them” – and the gullibility of people who’ll happily take such advice without reservation, and I also have to question the motivation of those who offer such help, whether asked for or otherwise. Is it a genuine philanthropic desire to make people’s lives better that persuades them to do it, or does everyone now think they have a divine right to impart their own opinion, no matter how wide of the mark it might be. And that for me is the underlying issue – the bulk of ‘advice’ given out online is just opinion – its not backed up by expertise, professional qualification, experience or peer review, it’s mainly just what someone – who has no knowledge of your situation, and may also have no idea what they’re talking about – thinks is the right way answer… Not a recipe for disaster at all!

I’m often asked for advice, particularly from people in SL, and it’s something about which I have mixed feelings. There’s always a certain degree of warm fuzziness that somebody thinks I’m a ‘go to’ person for help, but it’s always tinged with that feeling of ‘Oh crap, am I really the person to ask about this?’ – unless it’s something I’m properly qualified to answer, I always feel uncomfortable.

If you ask me how to fix your SL or RL relationship, and you take my advice… What if it all goes horribly wrong? If you want my help fixing your computer and your motherboard gets fried… Whose fault is that? If you ask for my thoughts on inworld building and you later discover a way to do it that works better for you… How much of your time have I wasted? It feels like a minefield, not only for me, but for the person seeking my help too.

I’m painfully aware that – apart from a very few areas where I am indeed properly qualified to advise – the vast majority of help and assistance I’m asked to give on a regular basis is simply my own opinion, based on what I know and my own limited experience. Your mileage may vary, E&OE, caveat emptor, and I suggest you get a second opinion!

Then again, if the world is changing in the way I described in my opening, then should I even be worried? If people are going to seek advice, then should I just at assume they are as savvy as I hope I am myself and that they don’t just treasure everything they’re told as gospel truth? And if they aren’t, is that my problem?

And it’s just struck me that after everything I’ve just written, ultimately, I’m asking you – the nameless, faceless internet hordes – what do you think?

Ironic, huh?

s. x

Help! I need somebody
Help! Not just anybody
Help! You know I need someone
Help!
The Beatles – Help!

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