The Illusion of Knowledge
The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance. It is the illusion of knowledgeStephen Hawkings
The rise of the creator economy has increased the number of people who claim to be experts. The internet has given everyone the opportunity to be who they are not. I can easily do some research to write a book and sell it. I am very well aware of those who produce mediocre stuff and sell, but that topic is not the aim of this article.
This write-up is geared towards those who do well in researching and putting up good content for sale. While I think this is outstanding and astonishing, it is deceptive, especially if you claim to be an expert in that field. There is a difference between knowing and compiling facts versus understanding these facts. Understanding goes beyond the “what” to dig deeper into knowing the “why,” “how,” and “which.” It revolves around connecting the “whats” to have a more profound sense of the subject matter.
As the Bible says, knowledge puffs one up, and if not correctly handled, it leads to deceiving the self and others. As creatives, it is super important that we do not fall prey to the illusion of knowledge. Random scouting for answers because of the abundance and accessibility of information is highly deceptive.
According to an article on this website, coming to understand is something that 1. one must do for oneself as it involves an element of individual cognitive achievement, without delegating to the medium, and 2. It requires an open and constructive confrontation with the otherness, preferably offline.
The Paradox of the Internet
There is absolutely no doubt that the internet has tremendously changed our lives forever. This is because it has decentralized information; hence, no one place or person stands as the gatekeeper of information. It thus has become increasingly easy to find out anything on the internet. For example, you could have a question to answer, and with the correct search query, you would get about 1000 sites providing you with answers to that question.
There is an overflow of information today, and there is little or no talk on managing this information stack. Yet, as humans, we tend to believe that the more information we have, the better our understanding or decisions. This is what I call the paradox of the internet.
Access to information does not in any way equal a deep understanding of the information. The ability to google almost every piece of information does not make you an expert in that field. The paradox of the internet is that more people now have access to information, but fewer people have a deep understanding of the information to make meaning of it.
The paradox of the internet is similar to the paradox of choice. The paradox of choice states that the more options or alternatives to choose from, the more challenging or less likely it is to make the right choice. The Paradox of the Internet is similar. The more information the internet provides us, the more difficult it is to make meaning from the information.
Brutal Honesty and the Ego
Living in a world that celebrates the need to “fake it till you make it,” it is super important that you are brutally honest with yourself on whether you are an expert in your field or not. I run a writing community, and one of the tenets I preach is that we should not be tempted to sound like an expert by writing conclusively and authoritatively. Instead, I advise that we should write from the point of discovery. Write to people telling them what you discovered or found out or what you are going through.
Brutal honesty is challenging because it bruises the ego. The ego loves the attention that comes with claiming to be an expert. It enjoys and feeds on it; hence, it will do everything within its power to keep you faking it. However, if you genuinely want to grow and find meaning, if you’re going to be deeply rooted, you need to be brutally honest with yourself.
What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.David Dunning
Because of your skillfulness in using the internet to impress some set of people, you are going to be worshiped and praised. You are going to be referred to as a mentor, teacher, and rabbi. While there is nothing inherently wrong with praises and the other titles that comes with it, you must treat the praises of men like gum. Chew and spit it out and get back to work. It would be best if you do not get carried away to the extent that you are dependent on using google to answer every question thrown at you.
Your job is to be deeply rooted in that field by spending ample time reading and studying, and making sense of the information you have access to. Then, after the praises, go back to your desk to put in the work. I am not writing to tell you that expertise is a fluke. No, far from it. I am writing to encourage you not to be an expert just by title but also by meaning.
To achieve this, be brutally honest with yourself by saying NO when you do not know a thing or do not know it enough to have an opinion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not knowing a thing. Own up to your ignorance the same way you will to your knowledge.
Being a Fraud vs. Feeling Like a Fraud
One of the challenges creatives face is that of impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome makes you feel like a fraud when you are not. I have written tons of articles on impostor syndrome, but there is a difference between impostor syndrome and fraud. You are a fraud if you know that you are not what you claim to be deep down within you.
You are not an expert in marketing, but you claim to be one. You are not an expert in writing, but you claim to be one. This is all because you have access to information. This is different from suffering impostor syndrome. I run a community of writers, and God knows I have never claimed to be an expert writer.
I created the community so that I could write better. I created the community to have people to look up to, motivate me, learn from, and hold me accountable. I tell them every time I have the opportunity that they inspire me to be a better writer. I submit my articles as required to get feedback from my fellow writers. I attend meetings as much as I can and do every other thing needed of every community member.
Do you know why? I want to be a better writer! and that’s not being a fraud. Do you know why? I have laid bare who I am to the people I serve. That is some brutal honesty you can learn from.
The paradox of the internet is the illusion of knowledge. Access to information could tempt us to think we are now experts in our fields when in reality, we haven’t even scratched the surface of that field.
Actual knowledge leads us to seek an understanding of what we know. It forces us to connect the dots by being brutally honest with ourselves and putting in the work.
This article is inspired by a conversation I had with my brother, friend, and colleague, Sunkanmi Samuel.