Amateurs and Professionals

Yesterday, Ryan Hoover tweeted a link to the most recent episode of’s “Shop Talk Live,” in which the Shop Talk experts take aim at the Web–specifically, the growth of amateur woodworking tutorials.

Fair warning: I know nothing about woodworking. I do, however, know something about the internet, so please indulge me for a moment.

The thesis of the above-linked episode sounds something like this: There’s too much amateur production on the web. Pre-web, the hosts of Shop Talk argue, you would learn from an “expert.” You would study woodworking under someone who has built many pieces, who knows the ins and outs and potential missteps. Now, however, (they argue) that a google search yields a mix of amateur videos, bad habits, and poor techniques. Listen to experts!, they say, an argument presented throughout the FineWoodWorking site, where hosts are repeatedly presented as Experts (and listeners/viewers are inferred to be non-experts).

Shop Talk Experts

I should note that I have no problems with expertise. We need experts. But herein lies one of the problems with expertise: The FineWoodWorking editors are using their platform–a video series about woodworking, a topic about which they are experts–to discuss digital culture and production–topics about which they aren’t experts. They are engaging in the very behavior they loathe.

For me, the issue isn’t one of amateurs and experts. It’s an issue of information management and access. The FineWoodWorking editors have enjoyed a platform of readership and access, and now that platform is threatened. I think such platforms are important (in fact, I’d argue, they’re one of the foundations of a contemporary information society), and expertise needs prominent venues.

But expertise will continue to be threatened until experts acknowledge both the privilege of and tensions within their publication venues. And taking aim at amateur tutorials–especially in something as foolish as an episode titled “A Perfect Storm of Stupidity”–is no way to preserve relevance in a digital age.

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