Our Desire For An Expert

Projector Lens Michael Porter via Compfight

The passing of Roger Ebert has reminded me of our constant search for experts and advice. Ebert was probably the only film critic millions of Americans knew by name, even if they did not watch him on TV. He was trusted not because he critiqued film from the position as a protector of an art (although he could) but as an advocate for the viewer. Roger hated lazy film-making, films that thought little of the viewer, films that were formulaic and done on the cheap just because the studio thought the audience wouldn’t care.

Yet even as the traditional print journalism Ebert knew collapses due to a changing advertising marketplace audiences search daily for experts to guide them through decisions. Much of that advice comes not from a single expert but from a crowd: dozens who have eaten at a restaurant and posted their thoughts online, at yelp or urbanspoon, millions who see a film and rate it rottentomatoes. It is both horribly inneficient- the hours spent collectively rating a restaurant compared to the time one expert would need to write a professional review- and wonderfully democratic. Everyone, whether serious or snarky, gets their vote.

 

The other expert that has arisen online is the super niche expert, who speaks to a very narrow crowd that is likewise deeply interested in the topic. The person who only reviews Children’s Music. The expert on riding bicycles on dirt and gravel roads. No niche is too niche for the expert- and that is where the value is online. Being a great film critic is no longer enough to build an audience in the new media world; now you must be an expert in the Japanese Anime film Akira to be noticed. Get busy!

 

The constant is that we long for a guide, written or human, through the dizzying number of choices we have. We want to trust the opinions of another, if only to confirm our own beliefs. The market for an expert will always be there, even as the mediums of exchange change.

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