In another time, answers seemed ascendant, or at least, you knew how and where to find them. Knowing your way around a good library was helpful. Sometimes it was as simple as asking dad. Our culture was built around a functional model that’s now nostalgic at best. Now if a youth in school suggested that his information source was good ole’ dad, he’d probably be suspended for some violation or another. Now, it’s all about Google.
Those of us of a particular vintage remember The Shell Answer Man and the series of commercials that Shell Oil ran during the 1960s into the early 1990s. Again, a time not that long ago (when viewing history’s arc) where assurance, rather than uncertainty was trumpeted. Perhaps Americans were simply less skeptical than they are at the moment.
Nicholas Carr linked to one of the more interesting blog posts I’ve read in quite some time, over at his own Rough Type blog. The post he recommended was written by Will Davies at the British think tank, the Political Economy Research Centre’s (PERC) blog. Davies (in the most provocative piece I’ve read on Brexit) touched on (in point #4) how we’re now relying on data, rather than facts. This reinforces my own point about difficulty in finding answers. It’s also why polling prior to the Brexit vote was flawed and why our own political polling is meaningless. We’ll just have to wait ‘til November to see how everything shakes out. Kind of eliminates the need to follow the news media closely, doesn’t it?
I’ve been reading Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. He concludes the book with a chapter called, “The Loving Resistance Fighter.” I thought it was an apt ending to what I consider a classic work on how not to be duped by the techno-utopian crowd. Postman, writing 25 year prior to Davies, delineates that our flood of data has made us all reliant on priesthood of experts, bureaucrats, and social scientists to explain what it all means. Their answers often come up short.
I’m grateful to Postman (and writers/bloggers like Carr) in that they offer a road map for anyone that prefers answers to questions, or at least appreciates the past and where we’ve come from in framing intelligent questions.