This article has been doing the rounds. Something about it strikes me as off.

Right off the bat, the veneer of snobbery. Although the writer seeks to counter this by confessing that he is one of those who feels the pressure to appear culturally in-the-know, I suspect this deprecation is faked.

As he himself acknowledges, the phenomenon of people wanting to and needing to appear culturally clued in is not new. To be familiar with the cultural classics is to demonstrate that one is cultured. In the past, people did this by mostly name-dropping at parties and nodding knowledgeably, by keeping certain books on display in their libraries, by gleaning a passing knowledge with some subjects. In our age, people do this by sharing on social media.

His peeve is that nowadays it’s so easy for people to fake cultural literacy. Which is where I detect the snobbery. One way of looking at it would be to rue the fact that now anyone has access to the trappings of what used to require a certain degree of effort and erudition (and elite education/background) for a person to exude. The other would be to celebrate the fact that people who might otherwise not have been knowledgeable about a subject can now easily look it up and expand their worldview if only by a crack.

The New York Times article he linked to makes a better point about people feeling the need to have an opinion on something they have only passing familiarity with. Again, the skimming-the-headlines phenomenon is not new. I’d wager it’s been happening for time in memorial.

I think there are two separate issues here. One is posting RIP status messages or quotes from people on only has a passing familiarity with, which I don’t think is such a big deal because it’s possible to identify with or feel a quote resonates with one but not know the life history of the person one is quoting. The other is having a strong opinion or an argument on something about which one only a passing knowledge of, the not-bothering-to-read-the-article-before-commenting phenomenon. I personally feel more annoyed with these people, and I have a policy of not blogging about or commenting on something unless I’ve read the original piece (in the case of Amy Chua, the whole book, not the newspaper excerpt of the book). However, again, people have been reacting to headlines since newspapers were born, hence headlines have been getting bigger and articles shorter.

So why the hand-wringing over this?

 

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