Do you ever wonder about your qualification to speak about something? If you find yourself wanting does that make you reconsider opening your mouth to let loose what may be that most dangerous of traps, an uninformed opinion? I know I have been guilty of talking about something I am not fully up to speed about on more than one occasion and sometimes you are lucky enough to be able to fudge through it without the other person noticing – this is usually because the other person is less informed than you are on this particular subject; sometimes they are only letting you think that you got away with it. Once you are out of the room they will snigger to themselves and note down for future use what an ignoramus you are – this is how bad reputations are built. Sometimes we are not blessed with that good fortune though – we are either confronted with that most feared of conversational opponents: namely an expert, or we come up against someone whose questioning nature and need for reference sources exposes your knowledge as a paper-thin shell of cribbed notes and barely formed opinions. You are publicly exposed right off the bat.
How can one avoid this unfortunate and embarrassing situation? One can reserve their opinion on a subject until they have actually done some research; until they actually have an understanding of the subject that they wish to pontificate upon. If you make this your practice – to withhold your opinions until they are based on solid ground then they you will be the one that gets to stand there and contemplate another’s ignorance.
It is fair enough to begin engaging in a conversation and to find oneself midway through that conversation out of your depth – at this point you should confess your ignorance beyond that level of interaction and remain quiet. How many stupid circular arguments might be avoided if people obeyed this one simple rule, that if you have nothing to add that furthers the conversation you should not add anything?
I have a different problem in that I remember a lot of things but find it difficult to provide concrete examples of what I am talking about – some people don’t like this way of arguing and believe you should have both eidetic recall and encyclopedic knowledge. Recalling the gist, understanding the mechanics, but being unable to serve up the meat of an argument does not work in some cases. I have got into a bad habit of knowing where to look for the information and using other systems apart from memory to store this information. I don’t think that I am the only one whose relationship to information has radically altered since the widespread availability of increasingly larger computer storage devices has impacted on our life.
In the same way that the calculator’s presence in my life affected the degree to which I initially was willing, and eventually was able, to make manual calculations was affected, so to does my ability to store information in my long term memory seem to have been affected by the storage possibilities of modern computing. You offset some of the burden on to the device to free up your mind for other things. Of course there are other factors too – for instance my ageing will have had some effect on data retention, but there is also the exponential increase in the amount of information one can access too. At some point the sponge reaches saturation point and just can’t absorb anymore. It even happens with the computers themselves – think of how many alternative storage devices you utilise alongside your main machine that aren’t purely for the purposes of back-up but as an extension, a portable memory.
The alteration that humans undergo in the future may not be something that is physically obvious – it may be more on the level of how we disseminate ourselves; how we distribute our memories, thoughts, those things that make us uniquely human, across the various networks that will seem so natural an extension of our selves that we do not consider them “other” at all.
And so, at some point, it may become an accepted thing that people don’t have the answer on them – that it is instead something they have to boot-up or download from some other part of themselves. For the moment though – the safest and best form of opinion, that you should make a regular part of your daily diet, is the informed opinion.