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Has Expertise Changed?

I’m having a wonderful time on the PBS online roundtable about the Digital Nation documentary, organized by Douglas Rushkoff. Chatting with danah boyd, Nick Carr, Kevin Kelly, Mark Pesce, Clay Shirky, R.U. Sirius, Sherry Turkle, and Jimmy Wales about paradigm shifts like peer production of content and collaboration online. Our latest topic is on the nature of expertise.

Has expertise changed? Is the rise of amateur production de-valuing expertise?  I argue that it has not. Kevin quipped that, “Proposition: expertise is dead and folk wisdom is all that we have.”  My reply:

Kevin, I love this as a first sortie into the conversation, but my parry is simple: we have the same ‘experts’ we’ve always had!  We’re called ‘academics’ and ‘researchers.’  We have a specially designed credential that designates us as experts (a PhD), and we have the time and mandate to develop our expertise.  I don’t think either the research university system or corporate research laboratories are going away any time soon, and in fact so far they haven’t changed much at all.

In the arts, sure we have amateur movies–but we still have professional films. And that’s not changing.  We have indie games, but we still have blockbuster products by EA and Blizzard. We have easier access to a zillion garage bands, but we still have Lady Gaga and The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

The one field where expertise is changing dramatically is journalism. And that’s frankly scary to me. Bloggers fill some of the void, and in some cases may bring more expertise to the task than professional journalists. But we really do need people with the *time* and *mandate* to do solid investigative reporting, and no amount of tweeting from the scene can replace that. We need a new economic model to support professional journalism.

My counter-proposition: journalism expertise is in crisis, and everything else is nearly unchanged!

The irony of course is that we all are the ‘experts’ talking about whether there’s such a thing any more as ‘experts’!

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  1. April 8, 2010 at 11:38 am

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