How Modern Books And Influencers Make Us Dumb

May 29, 2023  • Free Weekly Developer Newsletter

We are not that different. Everybody watches interviews with billionaires hoping they will reveal their secret. We are craving to know what is the missing puzzle that will open the world of success for us. Unfortunately, their answer is always the same - the key to their success is reading.

Despite, it might be true for some. No doubt that reading isn’t the only factor that made them so successful. It is unlikely that reading 50, or even 100, books every year will not bring you closer to the top. Ultimately, Forbes billionaires list doesn’t have that many teachers and professors listed on it.

If we assume you are planning read 50 books per year, you will end up reading at least one book weekly. No doubt reading one book per week is possible. Many ambitious students do so, since it is the fastest way to acquire knowledge. Their lecturers provide them book recommendations and students prepare from them. But high volume reading isn’t exclusively limited to students. All professions in the field of science come with constant learning as a part of job description. Would you trust a doctor who didn’t read any book or publication since their graduation?

Reading is one of the most effective ways of expanding knowledge but filtering is the key. The most of people know how to filtering information related to their own profession. They can rate evaluate the value of publication and rate author’s knowledge in the field. I bet you stumbled across fancy consultants with rockstar credentials. They are always selling expensive consulting services to organizations like yours. Someone of them are using their former careers at top companies to compensate for their poor skillset. Often those consultants earn higher wages than more talented professionals at regular jobs. Organizations tend to trust external sources more than their own employees. It isn’t limited to the times when they are hiring consultants to fix the job someone messed up. Unfortunately, even professional managers struggle with filtering resources and people from outside of their expertise. We all fall into confirmation bias.

Let me give you an example related to my field. I work for a company that provides infrastructure for cryptocurrencies. When I introduce myself to somebody they often tell me if they invested in cryptocurrencies. Usually they ask me if I heard about new tokens or online gurus. Usually I didn’t unless something is an extraordinary scam. They have very little understanding on what they are talking about and they are just repeating things they found online. “X is such great project with an amazing team. They are going to be a game changer but now they are undervalued” or “Ethereum’s greatest power is decentralization”.

Obviously, they didn’t read this information from any book. They watched YouTube gurus and repeat their “not financial” advices. Some of them believed they can be rich and they paid the stupidity tax. But the majority of them just wanted to dip their toes in it so they don’t miss the trend. Many of them are educated and smart. They just got fooled by fancy online experts.

Professionals and educated people are cautious and try to research topic before making their minds. But even for them it is impossible to filter information effectively. The information volume is just too large, and every Influencer online is claiming they are sharing information from a good will and they don’t want to scam anyone. Our education level doesn’t matter since we, all, end up searching in the same places - Google, YouTube or Reddit.

Let’s assume you have some savings and you want to learn how to invest it. How would you research this topic? Personally, I would type “personal finance” or “how to invest my savings” in Google or YouTube. The recommendation algorithm will propose me authors and influencers fitting my profile and preferences. I will get the list of videos made by bunch of influencers in their 30s like myself. I can relate with them. My brains will generalize attributes what an “expert” from personal finance must have. Definitely, I will stay away from “Wall Street scammers” since “I know” they want to “steal my money”. I learnt from movies like The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street. I will rather choose someone similar to myself. Someone who had similar job, similar education level, and maybe even had similar problems like I’m having now.

No matter how educated we are - we, all, know common truths. In this case, we know that inflation is a devaluation of money and if we keep money on bank accounts it will slowly lose the purchasing power. We know that “the government is printing money” but we don’t really know how they are doing it. Do they have some special printer? Where do they send this money?

Those common truths get us hooked. Influencers know that everybody knows what is inflation and they will give us the idea how to beat it. We might not be convinced yet so they will use authority of prominent figures to increase their credibility. They will explain their strategy and convince us by quoting Warren Buffet or other broadly known figure. And that’s how we fall into illusion of their expertise.

Let’s analyze one common “non-financial advice” from personal finance influencers - ETFs are the safest way to invest money. I bet you heard it multiple times. But have you noticed that all those gurus use Warren Buffet’s credibility to confirm this idea?

A few years ago, Warren Buffet was participating in a discussion panel. Journalists and students were asking him questions and he answered them. Someone asked what would be the best investment for an average joe. Buffet said that the average joe should invest in an entire S&P500 index. This small advice made so many influencer careers out there.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a bad advice by itself. If you only invest in ETFs you will end up saving enough for your retirement. You will need to invest 30-40% earnings for your entire career though. I know that influencers have charts saying when you start early you won’t need to invest 40% of your income. But it isn’t my point.

You know that Warren Buffet doesn’t invest in ETFs, right? He owns them. But it doesn’t mean he wants you to invest in his ETF. He doesn’t really care. Warren Buffet just gave one sentence answer for a very complex problem. Is it a good advice for everyone? No! It is a mediocre advice that comes with low risk and generates mediocre outcomes. Giving the precise answer would require a deep analyze someone’s situation and their risk tolerance.

Personal finance influencers don’t make money on ETFs but selling knowledge to mass audience. Majority of their net worth comes from their YouTube channels and businesses created around it rather than traditional investments. Their advices are designed to reach the broad audience and make them money rather than make money for their audience. Did you know that so many people who lost their assets in FTX were came from the most popular US influencers in personal finance?

Taking uneducated shortcuts from questionable source, in most of cases, leads to becoming a “capital provider” for others. Do you really want to fund someone’s life at your expense? I wouldn’t feel smarter than others if you are owning real estate and hiring a company to manage it. In the end, they are the ones making almost risk-free profit on it. You might be tricked by those who indirectly take advantages from infrastructure build by influencers but that’s another topic.

We are living in times when everybody can become a thought leader. Have you noticed that most of New York Times bestsellers are written by influencers and celebrities? This fact should give you the better perspective on modern books. Nowadays authors are influencers. They are writing books to elevate their egos and sell their products. They got this “new method” that will help you to squeeze more from your life or increase your net worth. You just need to read buy their book.

I wrote this article to encourage you to question your opinions and beliefs. They often aren’t really yours. The content of this post isn’t a financial advice of any kind.

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