Be Careful of Who You Listen To Online

I read a lot of blogs. In fact I probably spend way too much time in Google Reader chasing down the latest stories in the tech and startup world. Some I read for tech news, others for inspiration, and a few for entertainment.  As I write this post there are 24 different publications that I follow every day. That’s 24 different authors. How seriously should I take everything they say?

Lately God has been challenging me to “be careful who I listen to online.” It’s easy to read a great article and immediately run with an idea. It’s also very easy to read an opinion from a trusted source and automatically assume it applies to your own life. But the reality is that each blogger or journalist comes from a different background and lifestyle than me. What’s best for them might not be best for me.

Take Altucher Confidential for example. Author James Altucher recently wrote an article titled, Why I Would Rather Shoot Myself In the Head Than Own a Home. He makes a solid case and I agree with his argument that real estate often isn’t a good investment. Yet James is writing with a grand assumption that I want to make money at all by owning a home. My interest in home ownership is not financial; in fact my only financial goal is to not lose a bunch of money if I have to sell. I like doing home maintenance, having a place that’s truly mine, and owning something that I can hopefully give to my kids someday – even if it is going to cost me more than renting long term.

Altucher isn’t wrong. In his world, owning a home is a horrible idea because his environment, expectations, and goals are different. The dangerous thing for me as a reader is to forget this and assume owning a home is a horrible decision for me too.  That’s the dangerous game we all play when we read articles on the Internet without knowing who wrote them in the first place.

I could have read Altucher’s article and panicked. Uh-oh, I own a home! I’ve got to get rid of it! What I did instead was try to understand where the author was coming from. Why does he feel this way? His arguments make sense, but do they really apply to my own life? I had to do more research about the author before I could apply his advice to my own life.

When it comes to our digital identities, the Internet feels like a great equalizer. It’s like an even playing field where we are all from the same digital geography called the World Wide Web. It’s easy to forget that although we’re exchanging ideas in the same channel, our real-world identities are still very different.

At face value, this might seem like an unoriginal discovery and a reminder of the obvious at best. But the truth is readers need to take more responsibility in filtering what they read – or at least “taking everything with a grain of salt.” Don’t run and jump at the next interesting idea or opinion you read about. You might just believe it and get mad because it didn’t work for you. But don’t be mad at the author. Be mad at yourself for not taking the time to understand the context of the article, who wrote it, and whether it really applies to you or not.

On the other hand, let me close with a disclaimer: don’t just follow people who are exactly like you. Read things that offer completely different opinions. Read things you disagree with. The aforementioned James Altucher, who I follow closely, is completely different than me. He’s not a Christian, and I disagree with a lot of what he says. But I still read it because it’s inspiring and because it exposes me to new ideas and perspectives. It helps me to avoid group think. I just have to be careful and remember that he is in fact very different than me, and therefore what seems like one-size-fits-all advice might actually be the opposite of what’s best for me.

Be careful who you listen to online. Just not too careful.