How to fix the internet

Or how to fix (your sport, your country, your team, your profession)

You can’t. There is nothing to fix because it is not actually broken or damaged. It has evolved in a direction that scares or pisses you off. That doesn’t mean it is damaged. What you don’t like is what is known as “perverse development”.

Perverse comes from the Latin “pervertere” or “perversus”. It is used in many different technical contexts, from psychology and politics to law. It always has a root in etymology: perverse means “turned around”. Later it acquired a more normative semantic content, as in “turned away from good”.

I prefer the root meaning.

There is one interesting saying that has been repeated so many times that it’s author is not traceable anymore: “the internet is the best and worst thing that happened to (insert your issue)”. That’s a pre-analytical perception of things. The internet is the greatest technological revolution in communication since the development of the press, around 1440. Nothing changed human communication as much as the internet. Just like nuclear power, it has the increased potential to provide immense progress and disastrous destruction.

The one thing that exploded the levels of human creativity to unknown levels is the same that eroded the basis for authoritative knowledge: hierarchical legitimacy. Science, the arts, the sports and every intellectual endeavor that we admire are built over a merit-based hierarchy of legitimacy, credibility and power. As the internet allowed horizontal authorship and access to technical information orders of magnitude greater than before, it generated four things:

  1. New authors outside the accepted and legitimate “fields” of expertise, talking about the same things, with the same words
  2. A huge new information consumer market that is not trained in information consumption, lacks the tools for information handling and is basically information illiterate. Members of this new market absorb information according to “upside down” (or perverse) parameters.
  3. Experts in creating the new form of visibility prompted by the erosion of credibility and legitimacy.
  4. Disrespect for authority: anyone can digitally address an authority as an “equal”, whereas before, when it was only possible to do that in meetings or by paying a visit to their training facility or clinic, he would be addressed properly as “sir”, “may I ask” and “thank you, ma’am”. No back-talking.

This is not good or bad in itself. Proficient social media marketing specialists are as much technically skilled as the best professionals in any technical field. They are, however, hired to erode technical authority itself through sophisticated and sound marketing strategies.

Are they bad people? No. They have clients and they will use their expertise to complete their clients’ projects. In time, some of their tactics became publicly accessible. Today, anyone can download a template of sexy blog titles and market their brand by eroding critical thinking and technical credibility.

That is bad.

What can you do about it?

A couple of things:

  1. Spot the true authority in whatever issue you are interested in, from joint repair surgery to wine tasting. That’s not so hard: there’s always someone who knows someone. Collect a large number of referrals and compare them. The authoritative sources will shine out.
  2. If this doesn’t work, locate the professional association for that matter. They usually have a list of resources for the public. That is usually your best bet. For health issues, go for the safe bet: the NIH, WHO or CDC associated organizations. They all have a health education department with links.
  3. When the issue is coaching, here is some useful advice:
    1. The correlation between recent athletic performance and good coaching is non-existent. People who offer coaching after a recent period of athletic excellence, but whose “voice” you never heard concerning technical matters should be avoided, meaning the latest stage star, record holder, etc.
    2. Take a look at his advice. Good coaches know a bit of science, but the amount of uncodified knowledge they must handle is far greater. They will speak from experience and they will be mysteriously right.
    3. Observe testimonials – published or not. Do their athletes perform well? Do their clients get stronger and healthier? Do they appreciate the coaching (regardless of public opinion of that coach’s personality: the grouchy coach is sometimes the best)
    4. Do people acknowledge his advice? As in “I wrote Jim Morison about my wrapped squat and he totally fixed it. Besides, he followed up with me for months. No words are enough to thank him”.
  4. Nutrition advice: be twice as cautious. That can hurt you real bad if you follow the wrong advice. In fact, it can kill you. The amount of irresponsible nutritional advice digitally published every day is scary and it involves consuming potentially harmful things (or stop consuming necessary things). How to choose the best advice:
    1. Ask a nutritionist. There is no way around this: I have a higher degree in biochemistry and still I trust nutritionists for the last word on anything related to nutrition. It is not because something can cross the mitochondrial membrane and affect oxidation in vitro that it will have any healthy effect in vivo, meaning on you. The nutritionist will answer you and guide you to authoritative resources.
    2. Try the resources links in the professional societies
  5. Athletes and people of excellence in their field, in general: promote those that are excellent in their craft but are also good people, honorable people. Anyone who reaches the level of celebrity, even a micro-celebrity, has a social responsibility. Observe all, but promote (by interacting and sharing) only the honorable. These are the ones who contribute to a better world.
  6. Once you do all that, use it for your own benefit and SHARE THE INFORMATION on your social media. It is your small contribution towards rebuilding authoritative guidelines.
  7. And once you do all that, quit interacting with non-authoritative sources. Don’t engage in battle against them. Simply stop “liking”, sharing and acknowledging them. That also involves quitting liking and sharing some very impressive athletes. They are associated with unhealthy digital trends and they are not role models. You can enjoy their videos and observe their performance, but don’t promote them. By promoting the role models, you are contributing to a healthier digital environment.

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