A 5-minute expert is someone who knows almost everything, but hasn’t really done much work to get there. A couple of videos on YouTube and an article or two are all he needs to be sure of himself on nearly any topic. The 5-minute expert loves to show up in discussions about provocative topics; but any will do – even if it’s just a sports team or whether Apple or Android has the hottest new mobile device. The 5-minute expert seems to lack nuance and depth of understanding when he talks, and is much too sure of himself. Maybe you know someone like this – or maybe you have been like this yourself.
We’ve been doing this a long time
I think there are a few reasons why we fall into the 5-minute expert trap. For the last century or so, we’ve invented more and more ways to make life faster, more efficient, and less physically and mentally demanding. We do everything we can to make everything easier.
Think of the major inventions in recent history – they generally center on the idea of doing less work. An easier life isn’t always a bad thing – I’ll take less work any day. But it can have some negative side effects if we’re not careful.
Take information – the internet. The best part about the internet is that anyone can say whatever they want. The worst part about the internet is that anyone can say whatever they want. Google gives us millions of search results in a fraction of a second, and all we have to do is glean the results for a quick and easy answer. But quick information leads to sloppy conclusions.
We need to slow down
Life is so fast that we no longer take the time to slow down and just engage with it. We don’t take the time to know ourselves, to know each other, to form deep personal character, or to deeply engage with the minds of others and of ourselves. The late philosopher of science, Karl Popper, gave a beautiful illustration of what I think life should look like – especially as it relates to knowledge:
“The best thing that can happen to a human being is to find a problem, to fall in love with that problem, and to live trying to solve that problem…”
Depth does not come quick and easy. It takes a lifetime of intentional engagement.
And that takes work.
It requires becoming best friends with the phrase: “I don’t know.” It requires that we be honest – we’re often afraid of not having all the answers. The volume of knowledge that exists in the universe will always vastly exceed the capacity of our minds beyond comprehension. Be humble.
I do believe that truth exists and that things can be known, but it’s not easy and it’s never complete. And I’m always capable of being wrong.
Ask yourself what goes into a certain topic or opinion: What background knowledge must be known? How does your current perspective affect your interpretation? What are we sure of? What is still cloudy?
See things from the other point of view. Learn and acknowledge all the work that must be done to develop a perspective. Is there someone you don’t understand? Ask them the details about how they came to where they are now.
When we choose to be a 5-minute expert, we only cheat ourselves out of the depth and beauty that comes with a life of engagement.
Donald Miller wrote a great article about truth on his blog: Storyline Blog. Be sure to check it out.