Getting guidance for your life from the web

A recent college graduate I know recently found himself most unhappy in his new job. But was there something really wrong with the company he had had such high hopes for, or was it merely a case of the freshman blues? Where to turn for advice? Friends? Parents? Professors?

Why would I have been surprised that he went to the web? After all, that’s where you go for answers to almost anything these days. Sites like will help you with everything with to how to how to   to additional tens of thousands of topics you would have to live a dozen lifetimes to even think about, not to mention care about.  will provice guidance on that with your boyfriend. Other sites will even help you with how to believe in God.

So the web is changing the way we as a culture pass on critical insights about our lives .

I now better understand the importance of focus on web-based systems to manage and report of authority. After all, if we’re going to be making life-changing decisions based on something we found on the web, we should insist on it having at least some nominal level of credibility.

The first way to establish that credibility is to base it on the author’s credentials or experience. But that can be easily exaggerated or faked altogether. The second way is based on some kind of voting or popularity system. But what’s the value of the votes of a thousand members of the unwashed masses who can’t spell, much less think? And centralized systems of credentials or popularity will inevitably end up being gamed to a fatal degree.

A “dialog” with the web about our personal problems is really a “unilog”, a plaintive one-way cry of cyrptic search queries responded to by frozen text on the screen, incapable of either understanding our problem or explaning itself in more depth. It leads, in the end, to horrible decisions such as the one my acquaintance ended up taking–to put himself through the wrenching process of leaving the company he had joined a mere two weeks earlier.

2 Responses to “Getting guidance for your life from the web”

  1. Joe Says:

    “A “dialog” with the web about our personal problems is really a “unilog”, a plaintive one-way cry of cyrptic search queries responded to by frozen text on the screen, incapable of either understanding our problem or explaning itself in more depth.”

    This kind of makes me think of John Searle’s “Chinese Room argument” against Strong AI. In this case, we can think about “the web” as the translating machine in Searle’s situation, our problems and their answers as the unreflective rules (syntax) on which it operates, and the otherwise deeper considerations that we get from real people as meaning (semantics). Like the translating machine, people can put in stuff and get intelligible stuff back out, but because nothing about the web requires it to understand people’s problems, just the stuff they put into it, that reflective edge is missing from what they get back. In otherwise “normal” interactions with people, they think about our problems and we get some of that reflection back in their answers. With this reflected aspect missing from the internet though, I wonder how people will actually deal with their problems as they seek solutions through the internet.

    One possibility, though, is that it prompts reflection on the part of the person with a problem. This could be thought of as happening when they put their problems in, thinking like they did with other people that it would bring back reflection, and when no reflections actually come back they still act as if they did. Since no reflections are really coming back though, they are doing all the thinking for themselves. This possibility is constrained by a lot of what the person with a problem is bringing to the situation though.

  2. Greg Says:

    My feeling is that finding worthwhile/relevant life guidance before the net was pretty much a crapshoot anyway. The value of the wisdom earned is determined almost entirely by the context of the seeker and what he or she happened to stumble over in his immediate environs.

    But it’s a big subject – I would expect that those who made the most out of their relationship with a guide of some sort were those who took the time to learn something about their spiritual interests first, and sought a route based on that.

    Idries Shah quoted one of his antecedents as saying, “That’s why they’re called seekers and not finders.”

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