Monday, September 25, 2006

Everyone's an Expert, Part 2

Mel (Antidote to Burnout) in this post titled Looking for Expat Bloggers who Pose at Experts [sic] references the inquiry by CHarvey (CHarvey In Vietnam) seeking examples of what spurred me to write the Everyone's an Expert post below.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, I direct them to this Dealing with Negatives post by Jon Hoff (The Final Word).

On Mel's post, OMIH (Our Man in Hanoi) made, in part, these comments:
Blogs are not 100% fact. They are opinions. That is the whole point of a blog. For VA to VN to complain about people having opinions on their blog is ludicrous. We all have opinions.
Okay so we have shouldn't be too arrogant about what we present as fact. Especially when it's overly negative.
Blog are blogs. They are not guide books or reference books.
To suggest that I am complaining about folks having an opinion is a straw man argument; to implicitly suggest that each and every point of view is equally valid stems from a juvenile canard that everyone, from their own perspective, is right.

No, everyone is not right and not every opinion is valid and deserving of equal stature. One's opinion is formed from one's ability to observe (along, with other things, the knowledge with which to reflect upon such observations). But the ability to observe by the average expat is limited in many respects by the fact that that person cannot easily integrate and blend into the fabric of the world in which he is observing.

This reminds me of the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle and its application in the social sciences. The observer, by virtue of observation, changes the observed. Within social sciences, observers seek to disappear into the background, to obtain a more valid observation.

How easily can a person who cannot converse in the local language, disappear and observe things as they are? It is not about self-censorship or omitting negative facts about Vietnam from one's opinions, it's about recognizing that writings which summarizes one's experience into the boilerplate of "Vietnam is ________" is a disservice to one's own experiences.

It's true that "blogs are blogs," but in this day and age, material on the internet serves as the authoritative guides and reference books for the world. How many people read books when such things are out-dated by the time they leave the printers?

As a group, expat writers who (mostly) write in English wield a not unsubstantial power to adjust the prism with which the English reading world views Vietnam, and other countries for that matter. As expats, the country is viewed thru the filter of the bubble that one luxuriates in. Expand the bubble in which one lives in, to expand the experiential basis for, and the validity of, one's comments.


layered said...

D., Thanks for picking up on Charvy's request for direction towards an expat posing as an expert. I do not understand your reference to Jon Hoff's "Dealing with Negatives" post, though. Are you pointing out that Jon found an example of the expat as expert in the blog posting he references in his own post, or are you pointing out Jon himself and his blog posting as the example?

You state that the ability of an expat to observe foreign situations is limited because the expat himself infuences the situation and therefore establishes a bubble which filters what one can experience. I hope I have done your writing justice with that summary. In the end, you recommend that expats try to expand that bubble. I had to get beyond your word "luxuriates" first, because my own bubble in HCMC right now is not particularly luxurious. My original intention for my blog was to influence other Americans to cross the ocean to visit or work in Viet Nam, and to help them prepare for life here if they accept this challenge. However, I am finding that my bubble is much more limited than I thought it would be -- I am so immersed in my Vietnamese neighborhood that I cannot offer the average expat much that they will find helpful for their own experience here. Therefore I have taken on the self-apponted (but hopefully not self-righteous) task to offer a view to other expats of life in HCMC that they might not otherwise see from ther vantage point among expats. Ironically, I am now trying to expand my bubble by moving towards fellow expats rather than further into Vietnamese society. Once I regain communication with English speakers, I wil turn once again to trying to expand my bubble towards Vietnamese culture, to the degree I can while realizing that I am a tall blond-haired guy unable to blend into the society among which I am living. But I take the risk since I enjoy the observing, photographing, and writing too much to give it up.
-- Mel

D. said...

Mel, Jon Hoff's post points out some samples of what I meant as 'expats as experts,' as I mentioned in his comments. Of course things all too easily become lost in the the comments section of blogs (but maybe that's also 'cause I don't understand the whole "trackback" thing yet).

I intentionally used the term "luxuriate" because as expats we are rather blessed and more often than not leverage such blessings to make our life easier. There's nothing wrong with that - I take advantage of my opportunities to live in the suburbs of America.

While you definitely live in a different "bubble" than the fellow expat - your yearning to learn the language in order to integrate better and/or see a whole different dimension of the society in which you currently live shows a recognition that you are still very far apart from your neighbor, no matter how physically close you are.