Criticize More

by pgbh

Most communities have social norms against criticizing others. Dale Carnegie famously advised against it, saying “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.” This viewpoint makes some sense – criticizing others’ efforts is usually easier than doing similar things yourself, which can frequently make criticism seem like a cheap grab for status. But there are good reasons to criticize, as well.

The online preprint repository accepts about 84,000 new submissions annually. The US publishes over 320,000 new books per year. Roughly 70,000 music albums are released each year, and Nielsen counts 6.7 million bloggers worldwide (though it counts Tumblr). Who has time for even a fraction of that?

If you have an internet connection alone, you have access to an astounding amount of cultural content. Much of it will be beautiful, thought-provoking, wise, and useful. But as Sturgeon’s law predicts, the vast majority will be a waste of time. Given this, I think tools for sorting worthwhile from worthless are more important than ever. And such tools will inevitably have criticism as a major component.

Of course, criticism seems mean. Especially when you’re just criticizing an average person, rather than someone with lots of money or power. “How would you like it if someone applied these standards to you?” you may ask.

Well, I wouldn’t mind that much. I hope this blog is worth reading. But if it’s not, then I don’t want people to waste their time on it. Nobody owes you their time – it’s your responsibility to earn it.