Collective Ignorance

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.”

—Rosalia de Castro

I started playing with the internet at a young age. I got my first AOL screen name in early middle school, and was entranced by this new place that was suddenly available to me.

What struck me wasn’t the amount of possibilities—I had no idea how many there were—but the freedom I had in exploring them.

I grew up with two brothers and a sister. We were all highly competitive with each other. It just seemed natural at the time that not knowing or doing something wrong should be met with ridicule and mocking. After all, we were graded on our ability to provide the right answer, so we should be punished for providing the wrong one, right?

It went further than that, though. Everything from the music you like to the people you hung out with were subject to scrutiny. Pick wrong, and receive the jeering you’ve earned.

Then there was the internet. This new thing that nobody knew what to do with, that would make problems nobody could predict or prevent. We were collectively ignorant of the entire thing, so we could leave all pretensions of expertise behind and just go poke things for the sake of seeing what happened. We were all more daring, we all risked more, because we did not smack each other down for trying something new. The internet was a minefield that we were all walking together, and nobody got blamed for setting off a mine now and then. Instead, now we all knew there was a mine there.

This is what made me love the internet. This is what made me love the community of people that gathered there enough that I would spend the next decade or so building my skills and walking that minefield with people. We’ve advanced a long way, we know where a lot of the mines are. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think we know where all the mines are.

I’ve seen a lot of blog posts lately from people who are vainglorious enough to believe that they know where the mines are. From people who are so confident in their knowledge, they feel comfortable telling others what they should do.

Can we please not do this? I like it so much better when we’re all in this whole “What the fuck is going on?” thing together. Can’t we all just do our own thing, let others do their thing, and be collectively richer for the wealth of knowledge that comes out of people doing different things?