Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Robert Fulghum knows everything there is to know

Last fall our local NPR station (KUOW) did an interview with Robert Fulghum, the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It sounds like he has a pretty sweet life these days—hanging out, writing books about being a good person and getting back to the basics of life. Being a nice guy. Talking on public radio.

One of the things that struck me was his comment about bloggers. He said that the web's full of bloggers these days and they're all trying to be gurus: specialized in one topic, authoritative, informative. In contrast, on his blog (he says) he just writes as if he were writing to a friend. Topic: whatever's on his mind. Tone: relaxed. No need for research or references. Just engaging in a bit of friendly conversation with no one in particular. It's like that crazy guy at your coffee shop who talks vaguely to anyone within a few meters of him, only when you do it in writing it doesn't make you look like a such a weirdo. :)

He said he tries not to "get into the guru racket" because all the good advice in the world has already been known for ages, so who needs a bunch of self-proclaimed gurus popping up all over the internet trying to say something new. He actually said, "...The good stuff has been there, we don't need any new stuff."

Now, I can see how that goes along with his whole philosophy of simplification. It's summed up in the idea that "all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten," right? He believes that there are some fundamental ideas that are easy to learn, and everything else is just a more complex version of those fundamental ideas. But I can't really get behind this idea that everything has already been said and that there's nothing left to be an expert in. I mean, honestly? What's the point of perpetuating the human race if everything has already been said and done and figured out?

Perhaps my perspective as a technologist colors my view on this; but it seems to me that there are tons of new things being thought up all the time, and that we do still have a need for experts in new fields—people who can speak compellingly and authoritatively. That's not to say that I think every random blogger is compelling and authoritative (far from it!); but I think it's overly simplistic to say that we don't need new thought leaders.

What do you think?

The relevant part of the interview starts around 14 min. into the audio file, if you're interested in listening.

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