Why online advice is dangerous

laptop with screen showing medium website with a lot of online advice
Medium is becoming a major source of online advice for me and I’m getting worried

It’s 8:00am in the morning on a weekday and I’m sitting in my living room mindlessly having breakfast. My attention is being given to the Medium posts appearing on my feed this morning. In this particular week, I’m occupied by thoughts about careers, so I tap into posts that discuss the topic.

As far as I can tell, this has happened for many weeks or months, even. Since a lot of them sound flat-out like advice, I’ve basically become habituated to fishing for online advice every morning regarding important areas of life like career, relationships, personal growth, and more.

But I’m beginning to think it’s a problem because of two things:

  1. Many are too general, generic, and watered-down to sound bites, and are merely part of the cottage industry of internet self-help
  2. I’m starting to get used to searching for stories of people who have been there and done that before feeling confident about doing something. Original ideas with no evidence of having tried by someone somewhere in the world before are being severely penalised as too risky

In other words, I think there’s too much general advice being peddled around the internet. And I’m getting worried about becoming too reliant on them and insecure about making original decisions without first consulting one of these posts that I almost arbitrarily stumble onto.

What I think we need more of is qualified and timely advice, and those can only come from people we either know personally or, as is the case with books for centuries and the internet for decades now, people with whom we at least feel a connection to.

Personally, I believe that advice and other forms of encapsulated wisdom are only useful to us if we trust the author – because trust makes us open up and warm up to their suggestions.

That means any piece of information about the author is not irrelevant just because it’s subjective. In fact, it’s exactly the subjectivity, especially the kind that we relate to (subjectively), that makes any personal writing relevant.

Ultimately, it is these pieces of information about an author whose advice we’re considering that give any nugget of encapsulated wisdom its impart-able quality.


Also published on Medium.