07/16/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Breaking the Age Hierarchy

In Experience Versus Information in yesterday's Freakonomics post, Stephen Dubner starts with a quote from David McCullough's The Great Bridge, about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, in 1860:

People then were still inclined to form opinions more from experience than information and it was the experience of most Brooklyn people that between their city and the other one, there was no comparison.

Makes me think. Experience vs. information. When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, experience ruled all. Leaders were older than 40, usually. We trusted the leaders. People in charge had gray hair. Younger people had to wait their turn.

I think that held through the 80s, as the technology to change it burst into being and spread like a remarkable new idea. And we had the breakthrough people. Bill Gates, for example. Nobody noticed when he started, but by the middle of the 80s he was Bill Gates, young genius entrepreneur mogul. And we had Apple's Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and Philippe Kahn at Borland. Things were starting to change.

Then by the 90s the walls came down. By the time I turned 50, in 1998, I found myself needing people in their 20s to push Palo Alto Software in the right direction. Ironic. When I was 25 I was too young, the leaders were 50; and when I turned 50 [exaggeration for effect warning] the new world business leaders were 25.

Stephen Dubner asks four questions:

1. In the modern age, do we primarily treat information as a substitute for experience?

2. If so, do the benefits outweigh the losses?

3. If McCullough is right, doesn’t it make bad information that much more dangerous?

4. If McCullough is right, might we approach a point where information distrust and overload encourage people to return to experiential wisdom?

Here are my answers.

  1. Frequently
  2. That's a trick question. How would we know?
  3. Yes, for sure.
  4. See answer #2: if we don't get to know, how would we expect to react.

So much for my answers. Then again, what do I know? I have no information on this; maybe some experience though, because I'm 60.