Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Forming Opinions: Experience vs. Information

It's been a while since I've written a real "and how, exactly, is this about food?" sort of post. Blame it on the combination of work and vacation - I haven't had much time lately to randomly read the internet for inspiration.

Fortunately, last night, during a much-needed break from pharmaceutical research analysis, I came across this Freakonomics post. Dubner's reading David McCollough's The Great Bridge, about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, and was caught by this sentence (comparing Brooklyn and Manhattan in the 1860s):
People then were still inclined to form opinions more from experience than information and it was the experience of most Brooklyn people that between their city and the other one, there was no comparison.

Dubner asks some questions about the validity of this phemonenon as it relates to the public as a whole. I'm more interested, of course, in how it relates to me and my life (if I wasn't self-involved, would I blog? Doubtful.)

The quote suggests that Americans moved, or are moving, from a state of experiential opinion-forming to one of informational opinion-forming. There's no value judgment in the quote regarding which is the better alternative, though some of the commenters (who sound pretty condescending, if you ask me) clearly believe that information-based opinions are more valuable and "right" than experience-based ones. (To be fair, there are also a number of commenters who note that experience is essentially the same thing as information, it just comes from a different source.)

Here's what's so interesting to me: if the hypothesis that Americans tend to be experiential opinion-formers, I think I am the opposite of most Americans. Growing up, I was definitely on the bookish, academic side (I mean, I had friends, but I definitely read a lot). My opinions were absolutely based on what I read in books and learned in school, or on the discussions we had around our dinner table. I'd go so far as to say that most of my friendships were formed on conversations I had with people, not just on time I spent with them or parties we went to. We all talked a lot. We still do.

It wasn't until I went to Europe for the first time - I was 25 and in business school - that I realized the value of experience on its own. Somewhere between watching the sunrise at Sacre Coeur and the Scotch tasting at the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society in Edinburgh, I developed a crazy intense bond with the people I was with. Of course, we did have long, involved talks while we sat on trains or in airports, but the bond was definitely a result of sharing experiences, not just words.

(As an aside, I took hundreds of pages of notes on that trip - it's kind of what I do - and very few of them were about conversations.)

So there it was, my personal revelation: information's not everything. Experience is valuable.

And how is this about food? Well, for one thing, what's more experiential than food? Why are business meetings over dinner so much more personal and effective than ones held around a conference room table? Why do we go out to eat on dates? Because that experience is so important to helping us form opinions about the most personal things.

Also, bringing it back to me again (surprise) was less than a year after the trip that I learned to cook - also a totally experiential activity. And one that really helps me relive pieces of trips I've taken and experiences I've had.

Finally, all of this reminds me of an interesting discussion over at the Design Public Hatch blog. Becky started out writing about the Yestermorrow Design/Build School and she ended up on one of my hot topics - the ability of thinkers/critics to become actual creators. It happens to be something I think about all the time, and in a roundabout way, I think it's why I like to cook. After years of art history and history classes, I am a pretty good analyst of culture (if I do say so myself). But I have absolutely no artistic or musical or architectural or whatever ability myself - and that's so frustrating.

As Becky pointed out to me in the comments, it is possible to actually learn how to design - it's not just a talent you're born with - and I've seen that confirmed as my sister has taken drawing classes as a part of her undergrad art history degree and now in architecture school.

But, for me, cooking seems to be the creative outlet I turn to.

Cooking and blogging, of course.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails