OK so you all kind of know this, but I’m going to go out on a limb and just put it out there as one younger member of my family has been heard to say. It’s depressing how much stuff is sent our way which repackages what’s already in the ether – stuff we already know, indeed stuff we may have grown up knowing, which is then fed back to us as AMAAAZING new insights into our contemporary world. You’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, you’ll savour those ‘aha’ moments – NOT.
This is the profundification of the commonplace.
The TED Talk above is on a subject that’s dear to my heart. It’s on the over-reliance on experts, the way experts can worship their paradigm and ignore what’s pretty obvious, and in the process tyrannize the wisdom of the lifeworld. I’ve even written whole essays on subject suggesting some possible ways to tackle the problem. So you’d think I’d love a TED Talk on that subject, especially since I agree with it.
Now I’m not expecting rocket science. I know that this is retail speechifying. The speaker is trying to explain ideas about which they’ve thought for some time to people for whom it may have no special significance. They need to be engaged and, dare I say it entertained. That’s as it should be. But lots of talks like that can be really interesting. I’m sure you can point us to some in comments. (On a second run through this I offer this TED talk as an illustration).
But really, having endured the hokeyness of the introduction, gritting my teeth thinking “this is the price of her TED Talk, this person will know something or say something of interest, perhaps compellingly, with cool illustrations” it turns out there is virtually no there there. Just the rehearsal of platitudes we already know – plus the obligatory reference to a brain scan. (Having invested in the technology, Troppo is scanning your brain as you read this and in the future you can be the first to learn the amazing fact to which our research will lead simply by staying tuned to Troppo.)
And it’s not just that what is presented could have been communicated in a single paragraph or two (I long for the day when TED talks have transcripts that one can scan to find out what’s in them, and get one’s way to the interesting bits – as I first discovered the interesting TED talk I linked to above – it was originally in French, so we got an English transcript.)
In this presentation the platitudes are laid on so thick that, commonsensical as they are, some are so naively put they’re often likely to do more harm than good. When you’re told to challenge experts, insist that they explain everything to you? Well when my second child was born I didn’t exactly expect that from the doctors and midwives, but did try to be a somewhat informed person in the room. But with time constraints pressing in, with a vast knowledge base and organisational system beyond my ken and a stroppy and robotic midwife with poor English, imported because she had the requisite certificate and would work for less than most self-respecting Aussie girls, her KPIs came well ahead of involving little old me.
Though I’d fondly entertained the notion that I’d stay on top of things, it rapidly got down to my choice between making a complete arsehole of myself and having the baby delivered in an atmosphere of seething hostility, or pretty much shutting up and doing what I was told. Now it’s true that many interactions with experts and professionals are not quite so fraught and against time pressures as this one, but generally speaking if you’re getting help from a specialist – perhaps less so from a doctor, you can take an interest, but you can’t challenge everything, you are unlikely to be able to understand everything, and you’d be a dolt to hold everything up until you do. Your desire to understand the content of the expertise being dispensed is also mediated by your relationship with, your confidence, or lack of confidence in the professional. Anyway, the talk doesn’t even get to that level of post-primary school sophistication.
In Part Two we look at Profundification business class.