I just wanted to repost a comment I made earlier in the week on Fred Wilson’s post about truth.
DBC Pierre explores the effect of media on citizens, and the greater theme of truth, or rather lack of truth, in everyday life.
It was a proud moment for me, because if there is one thing I hope to pass onto my children, it's the notion that there is no singular truth.
I was at a dinner last week where much of the NYC digerati (young and old) were assembled in a lovely apartment on the upper east side. After dinner but before dessert, the hosts initiated a discussion of the obsession of the moment: whither media. At one point, the argument came out that we need journalism to surface the truth. At which point, I sort of lost my composure and argued loudly that there is no truth.
There used to be a mantra at the upper right of this blog. I can't remember what it said exactly, but the gist of it was that there is no absolute truth, just your truth and my truth. I post my truth here everyday and I hope you'll drop by and share your truth with me.
I attended an intimate presentation by Dave Thomas (of Pragmatic Programmers fame) awhile back called "Herding Racehorses, Racing Sheep". It was a high-level talk on software development, psychology, expertise and generally how to move (yourself and/or others) along the expertise curve. I've personally never been a big fan of rules and best practices and I thought his discussion really captured why. As I wrote then:
Dave asserts that expertise cannot be boiled down to rules because we lose the original context for the rule in the process. This is one of the biggest challenge in artificial intelligence, of course, and a similar problem with best practices. Truth, he says, is contextual - and it's often very difficult to capture the context in these situations. Rather, there are two dials - rules and intuition. As we move along the five stages, we increasingly rely less on rules and more on intuition. The expert rarely uses a recipe.
It should come as no surprise, having attended a liberal arts college, that I agree with and have been preaching most of the points that Dave raised. The whole point of a liberal arts education is learning how to learn and trying to understand something in the greater context.
Like Fred, I am a firm believer that there is no singular truth. I believe there are absolutely shades of truth, and the only way I can arrive at a conclusion I am happy with is to read as many sides of the story I can and apply my general intuition. I think this applies in both "objective" contexts like a news story and clearly "subjective truths" like best movie, best phone, etc.
I think this is why Boxee, Facebook, blogging and other "social" tools are so interesting - because it's a democratization of opinion. Instead of, as Fred put it, singular points of authority expressing these opinions, it is everyone. With more opinions out there (whether it's music or points of view on a story, etc), it's easier to build your own view of that subjective truth.
This is also the cornerstone of what started us building Notches. Blogging may have been the printing press in the sense that it allowed those without technical knowledge to write if so inclined, but there's still a barrier to entry in having, say, my mother write reviews. Our goal is to allow a thousand interfaces bloom – including things like voice interfaces – to further democratize opinion. Ultimately, this is the best way to get to a "subjective truth", and make recommendations based on your personal values and beliefs.
After all, the question usually isn't what's "best", but "best for me".