I’ve noticed something over the years, on Make:‘s channels and across the net in general, that really bothers me and that I think is a behavior that is antithetical to learning and inspiring curiosity. It goes something like this. Someone posts a technique, hack, project, or news announcement and some percentage of the responding comments are statements like: “This isn’t new!,” “I’ve known about this for years,” “This is ancient,” “Not new, Make:, I’ve been doing this forever!” Etc., etc.
This happened recently when I posted about the perspective drawing with string and a paper clip trick. Maybe I had seen something like this in my countless orbits around the sun, but if I had, I’d forgotten it, was tickled to discover it, and I suspected that many Make: readers would, too. The video had already gone viral on Facebook and Twitter.
I posted it here and what I call the “uptake heat” (the speed with which it spread here on Make: and on our Facebook page) immediately told me that it was going to get a lot of traffic. It did. It enjoyed big traffic here, tons of likes and shares on Facebook, and dozens of comments. While many of those comments were positive, made by readers who were clearly as jazzed about it as I was, there were a number of wet-blanket comments like “This has been around since antiquity,” “This isn’t new,” “If drafting was still done on paper, you would know this,” “Why? We all use CAD software now.” Etc.
When people do this, when they feel compelled to publicly dismiss something as old news or something they’ve known for ages, what they’re doing is making other people feel stupid, ill-informed, and behind the learning curve. In the above example, people who liked the post even started to preface their comments with an apology for not knowing this trick already! What makes the more-informed-than-thou look foolish is when you think about the fact that this video had already gotten thousands of shares on social media, some 10,000 pageviews here on Make:, nearly 2000 FB shares, and significant attention on Twitter and Google+. Why would it get so much attention and enthusiasm if knowledge of this trick was as widespread and old news as its detractors implied?
It’s a big media landscape out there, in an even bigger world. My job is to stay as informed and up-to-date on science, technology, and DIY as possible. I get paid to be an information sponge. And yet, I discover things all of the time where I marvel that, in over five decades of living and learning, I have someone missed a particular fact or phenomenon.
I am certain that everyone reading this has had the experience of discovering something that excites them, sharing it, and then having it dismissed with a scoff and a “I can’t believe you didn’t know that already. I’ve known about that for years!” The feeling you get, of inadequacy, of being ill-informed, of being “out of it” is not fun. And it makes you hesitate to share things in the future out of fear that you might look foolish. Those two impulses, to be timid about sharing something that might already be widely known, and the impulse to dismiss other people’s discoveries as old news ultimately diminishes learning and punishes people for their curiosity and their desire to share what they’ve learned. I count these as cardinal sins.
So, the next time someone shares something with you that you already know about, please remember that’s only the case for you. For them, it’s new, it’s exciting, it’s a happy new wrinkle on their brain. Share what you know about it, your wisdom of experience with it. But for heaven’s sake, don’t make the person sharing it feel like an idiot because they just happened upon something cool and worthwhile to them that’s already old news to you.