Ahhhh, the internets. So much information, even more misinformation, and all available at the click of a button to reinforce whatever view we are inclined to believe.
Of course, there is a tonne of good and valuable information online, just as there has always been offline, but I suppose the key to getting smarter is learning how to decipher which is good and which is bad, and it’s not always easy.
How does one become an expert at something? Knowing a lot about a particular thing, in extremely general terms. What about the veracity of the many things that you like to think that you “know”? For a light read on the subject, set aside a few hours to unpack The Analysis of Knowledge, but in a few words, knowledge is traditionally considered to be justified true belief. Whether or not you’d like to debate that, it’s probably good enough to use as a guiding principle for our (my) purposes here.
So, knowledge is as follows (as pulled from the article linked to above):
S knows that p iff (if and only if):
- p is true;
- S believes that p;
- S is justified in believing that p.
It’s interesting to consider that knowledge is not merely something that is true, which is somewhat crucial to the whole thing, but that it is also believed, and that it is justified. One could think that knowing something that is true is enough to end the conversation right there and then, like pointing to a rock and saying, “that’s a rock”, but that’s just truth, which isn’t quite knowledge… but I digress…
So if you know a lot about something, you are an expert. We all know our fair share of experts who might be overstating their qualifications a touch, though, don’t we? The funny thing about being able to tell the difference between someone who is an expert and someone who thinks they are an expert is that you already have to know about the thing that the person considers themselves to be an expert about to a sufficient enough degree to be able to tell the difference between someone who is an expert and someone who thinks they are an expert.
That was fun.
So, there are Experts, and there are experts. Or, as I like to call them, idiots.
And the internet is full of idiots.
That’s a bit strong and purposely polarizing, but that’s part of the fun for me, so let’s continue with our sense of humour in tow, shall we?
While I’m overstating things a bit, I’m also a bit serious. The internet is full of idiots. Idiots who are happy to tell you that their opinion is the one and only Truth. There is, however, a really, really big grey area between the real Experts and the true Idiots. I’d like to think that most people (myself included) don’t have much of an issue identifying the true Idiots, but we all come across that giant grey area whenever we seek advice on shopping for the things we need and the things we want, which inevitably leads to the unholy cesspool of muppetry that is the internet forum and it’s toothless cousin, the comment section (except this one – this one is always top class…).
They’re everywhere, but here’s an example. Today I was wondering what the difference is between Vittoria’s Open Corsa SC and Veloflex’s Corsa tyres, because the treads are the same, the TPI is the same, and everyone apparently makes everyone else’s crap anyway (so say the experts), so, why not? Maybe, right?
Anyway, because Google is the font of all knowledge and the only way to find anything out these days, that’s where I went, and I was immediately presented with a cornucopia of answers that mostly consist of which tyre is better, and here we find ourselves with the never-ending procession of nitwits needing to have someone acknowledge their superior intellect and experience.
It usually goes like this:
“I had a pair of Open Corsa’s once and I got a puncture in the first week of riding them. Worst tyre ever. Veloflex for life!”
And then the next guy is all, “Veloflex are the worst. Rides like crap and blah, blah, blah, blah…”
Like I said, there is good information out there on the internets. Lots of it. But, like most things, when it comes to cycling “knowledge”, there are some facts, and then there are a whole lot of opinions. Opinions that often amount to heavily biased and often irrelevant recommendations from the woefully uninformed. Maybe it’s because people feel a bit worthless or purposeless or powerless in todays fast-paced, disposable, and consumer driven world, opinions are free, and the internet is public yet completely private, that everyone thinks their opinion is needed or of any value.
I guess people are asking the questions, so I don’t know why I would think that others won’t answer, but I suppose I’m wondering why you would ask strangers who present no qualifications whatsoever to weigh in on reasonably subjective matters such as “the best tyre at the best price”, or some such nonsense?
Seriously. How do you know if they know anything? What are their test conditions? Wet roads? Dirty roads? Rough roads? What is their riding style? Are they smooth or stabby? How much do they weigh? Do they maintain and look after their possessions? What pressure do they run the tyres at? Are they using a high-end tyre for commuting on? Are they cheapskates but want the best performance? What do they like, versus what you do? What are their expectations and are they realistic?
Even if you know most of this, which is highly unlikely, and even in professional reviews, never-mind forums, there is still the matter of (when it comes to tyres, for example) personal preference and dumb luck. No tyre is puncture proof, and even the “best” tyre, or anything else, for that matter, can fail.
I suppose I’m sort of saying that I don’t really put much stock in people’s opinions, in theory, because in practice we (I) all do it all the time. We want to be reassured that our decisions are the best ones, which is all well and good… and in doing so, we often turn to the expert opinions of unqualified strangers and then simply average out the general feeling and call it a day.
And here’s the best part: in the end, it really, truly, doesn’t matter.
We spend so much energy on discussing our expert opinion on every aspect of every detail of every product in order to buy just the right tyre, or light, or frame, when in reality, there are 10 different tyres that will hold air and deliver a good enough ride that will allow you to enjoy your time on the bike, and 10 different lights that will allow you to see where you are going well enough, and 10 different frames that will still exceed your abilities as a cyclist to descend at speed and handle your meager power output, and on and on and on.
Because you are not that good.
Say it with me: “I am not that good.”
We, the I-don’t-earn-my-living-from-competitive-cycling kind of people, don’t need the absolute best, even if that were quantifiable, and the irony is that if you were, you would ride what your sponsors gave you anyway.
It’s not really about the products at all, I suppose. It’s more about the story we want to be part of. The image we want to portray. The fun of getting shiny new toys and wanting the best ones we can afford in order to give us the feelings we want, and that’s by no means limited to cycling or cyclists.
I was going to recommend that we all just save our breath and energy and just get the thing that you like rather than trying to harvest the answers out of the quagmire that is internet forums, because cycling is about enjoying your time in the way you like to enjoy it and someone who isn’t experienced, rational, reasonable, and doesn’t know you and your preferences isn’t going to be able to help very much with that.
But then I just realized that all I have to do is not read forums, and none of this has to concern me (though I do spend a large quantity of time in an environment where I am forced to listen to just such opinions on a regular basis…).
So… never mind then. I suppose that was just a rant, and it’s over now, and we can all go back to doing whatever we were doing five minutes ago like nothing happened…
In order to make this feel like less of a waste of time, then, I suppose I’ll need to end this with some sage-like recommendation, like: it would be great if we could all figure out the difference between fact and opinion and communicate our ideas in a more rational sensibility, and less like some complete toss-bag.
Because you annoy me.
Good day to you.
Header image: source