If you are like most people these days then you probably have lost your sense of discovery and prefer to rely on the opinions of others as you roam the endless roads of social media. That is why Top 10 lists of everything from chocolates to music attract so many readers. It is essentially because they feel that somehow these cyber strangers are more qualified to provide opinions than they are.
The previous statement is of course false. The truth is everybody has an opinion about what they like and what they prefer. The great jazz pianist Bill Evans, when speaking about jazz as an art form, disagreed with the premise that the neophytes opinion was less valid than the jazz musician who knew all the ins and outs of the art form. He believed that one could even say that the neophyte’s opinion was even more valid because he was listening to the music without being weighed down by all the other analytical additional knowledge flowing around the musician’s head.
You can argue the point that the more you experience something the higher your point of reference becomes, which would make you more critical of something, but you can’t tell somebody that their particular opinion of a piece of music is wrong when they are speaking from their personal point of reference.
This is the issue about creating Top 10 or Top 100 lists about things that are subjective to the individual. Even if you have 99 people all preferring one piece of music to another, but one person in the bunch does not like it for whatever reason, it can’t be quantified. Compare this example with comparing the strength of different pieces of material. You can state the Top 5 strongest materials on earth because their strengths can be quantified. This objectivity makes for a valid comparison between them.
So why do people feel the need to latch on to somebody else’s list of the greatest Rock Groups or greatest whatever? Often the answer is certainty. Rather than have to listen to 100 albums and make the distinction themselves, they take the list and discover the best in hopes of saving time or having to slave through something painful. They become more comfortable in the fact that they will be listening to what they would have chosen anyway.
In addition to wanting to feel certain about something, there are those that exhibit different cognitive biases that affect their opinions. An example of this is the courtesy bias – the tendency to give an opinion that is more socially correct than one’s true opinion, so as to avoid offending anyone. Therefore, you can imagine how many of these Top 5, 10 or 50 lists are based on nothing more than wanting to appease the reader. Pick out the most widely held views about something in order not to offend anybody or look bad themselves.
There is also the authority bias – the tendency to weigh the opinion of an authority figure more heavily. A good example of authority bias is the recent explosion of bloggers writing about their world travels. They present themselves as the best source of information about what to see or where to visit. I happened to come across an article by one of these well known bloggers that described why he would never visit Vietnam again. He proceeded to express his distain for the people he met and how he was ripped off etc. Anybody following his advice would have sabotaged an opportunity to experience it for themselves. I did have the opportunity to experience a visit to Vietnam not too long after I came across that article. My experience was vastly different. It was one of the most fascinating countries I have visited.
Not everybody is comfortable giving their true opinion of something, so they prefer to accept the opinion of others. This is called the “Bandwagon effect” – The chance of people adopting certain ideas or making decisions increases when more other people have made these same adaptations or choices. Underlying mechanisms of this cognitive bias are people’s need to conform to a group norm, and the use of other people’s choices as information for making your own choices.
Subjectivity refers to personal perspectives, feelings, or opinions entering the decision making process. Objectivity refers to the elimination of subjective perspectives and a process that is purely based on hard facts.
Next time you take a look at a Top 10 list, pay attention to how it is worded. Is it “The Top 10 Places to Visit on Earth,” or is it “My Top 10 list of places,” or something similar. Because there are so many of these lists now produced and many of them have caused disagreements and agressive feedback, as you would expect them to. This is what happens when dealing with subjectivity. You are probably more likely to see the addition of the phrase, “as selected by our readers,” or based on votes from “critics” or “industry experts” which falls into the authority bias category.
We previously wrote about how our sense of discovery has been lost. Too many people are now relying on a social media stranger’s opinion, or even Google’s opinion. Do yourself a favour and just enjoy the process of discovery. At the least, create your own Top 10 things to eat, to visit, to do, to listen to. After all, your opinion is the one that matters most. As you expand your horizons and make new discoveries you will most likely find that all those list slowly change over the years to reflect your most recent experiences.