How do we make do without experience?

Dr. G Venkat Ram Reddy

July, 2020

While we all agree that experience is the best teacher and would be great to seek its solace at all times, there are contexts where it goes missing. However, despite its absence, we do still go about actively deciding and acting in such settings. How do we make do without experience and act? Lack of experience with choosing a life partner does not stop people from making a choice, and most do. Whom do people go to for experience that could help them make a choice first-time? People usually reach out to their social worlds such as friends, family, aka they depend on the proverbial free advice. We ask our parents and friends how they chose their partners and how it has been ever since to imagine how's life going to be with our prospects.

Next to social worlds and their free advice is the world of experts, both human and machine. Experts are the source of paid advice. They are assumed to have gained experience in a particular setting through systematic study/training and are assumed to have the skill to provide reliable insight into how to go about acting in a context. Premarital counseling is tailor-made for those among us who neither have the first-hand experience of partnering nor have the confidence in our social worlds.

But times have changed; the post-internet generation no longer only depends on other people for advice but also the digital worlds. The digital platforms offer an array of substitutes for our lack of experience. The younger generation would find Bumble's algorithm a formidable alternative to their family, friends, and counselors. These platforms are built on algorithms that primarily learn from the experiences of millions of people, aka mining the datasets for reliable patterns. Their vantage comes from providing advice that worked for a sizable number of people in similar settings than just one or a few.

However, such platforms suffer from the fact that humans are not wired to trust and believe in machines or the algorithms that run them. We are more gullible to other people. Thousands of years of biological and sociocultural evolution have equipped us with approximate tools to figure out whom to trust and believe. Whereas digital platforms are a more recent phenomenon and entrusting them with our decisions is still a work in progress. Thus, people use these new-age advisors more often to validate the advice they receive from their friends or family. No wonder then a Bumble match does not mean much unless our social worlds back it.

Note: The article is the third in a series of articles on the role of information in our everyday lives. The larger purpose is to lay out a series of observations on topics that matter to most of us and conclude with pointers to reflect upon. Please feel free to comment/question the observations/ideas put forth here.

About the Author

Dr. G Venkat Ram Reddy is a faculty in the area of Human Capital & Organisational Dynamics at School of Management and Entrepreneurship, IIT Jodhpur.