On Advice

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I think, for the most part,  advice is quite nonsensical.

In generations past, there was a superb advantage to being older – you had accumulated massive amounts of information about the world and your bandwidth of reality was much greater than that of someone younger. There’s a reason that Shamans of age-old were generally the oldest and had aggregated the most experience in the tribe. Nowadays that advantage has steadily dropped (similar to MoviePass stock) to one of my favorite numbers – zero.

Why is this the case? I believe Google has radically eliminated the boon and wisdom of age. Is there a value to age anymore? If I wanted to learn about history and military strategy, why go to grandpa instead of reading tale upon tale of men who were in actually in those battles online? Or even streaming a documentary about these men from Netflix.

So if the benefit of age has gone to zero (actually it’s more of a negative, there is substantial evidence for ageism in Silicon Valley), when and how should we take advice?

The computer scientist within me would say that you would do a depth-first search (DFS) into someone’s personality: assess how much they know about a topic, and only then listen to them about said topic. Let’s say Susan did a PHD and works solely in ornithology; I’ll most likely never listen to her advice about high-frequency trading or what stocks to buy. Some things are better left to practitioners versus the academics, whose ideas are untested in the real world. First principles versus thinking by analogy.

As to how we would take advice, this is much harder. I would never listen to just one person. That’s how we get situations where the youth of a generation feel as if they have to choose their profession between the large list of doctor, lawyer, and engineer. It’s a baffling paradox that people who want the best for you can end up cataclysmically ruining your life in unseen ways.

The French would say (when they’re not constantly drinking espressos/going on holiday):

“Chacun voit midi à sa porte” 

This translates roughly to everyone sees noon at his doorstep.

The idiom is supposedly taken to mean that even those you trust are implicitly looking out for themselves. Your mother who would give up the world for you begs you to be a doctor/engineer (not lawyers because they don’t get paid as much in comparison) not because she hates you, but because she doesn’t want to see you suffer. Unfortunately that ends up the plot to a wide assortment of comedic movies – nobody quite knows what they’re doing at all. We make it up as we go, sauntering through life.

Personally, I had this noon at my doorstep experience when I moved to the UK to start at Warwick, roughly two years ago. Perhaps the individuals I grew up with had my best intentions at heart, but because of living in a bubble, they couldn’t see that there was a whole world out there to see and explore. Building a life versus living in one.

I might feel this way in part because I’m of the mindset that 99% of people we interact with are the same. Same tastes, hobbies, and desires. And the only way to lead a special life – if we believe we are special – is to do something different or unique. Inevitably this requires going against the grain and making some people very angry. I definitely don’t recommend choosing the immigrant path as a starting point for achieving that (yes, this is a joke.)

“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”

– James Anthony Froude


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