The Age of Expertise
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The Age of Expertise<br> By Marc Porter Zasada <p> NO ONE WANTS to face a cold, heartless universe alone. Certainly not the Urban Man. <p> Back in the Age of Faith, I hear they had angels to keep them company. In the Age of Reason, they had philosophy. Then, around the Forties, Jean-Paul Sartre pointed out that both angels and philosophy had deserted us. <p> Now, thank heavens, we seem to be entering a new age, the Great Age of Experts. These good people appear on talk shows and write self-help books to keep us warm on long winter nights. And if we need closer companionship, we can hire personal trainers, life coaches and ... marketing consultants. <p> Today at lunch the Urban Man finds himself at a table out near the minimalist waterfall at Il Moro Restaurant, a white tablecloth bistro wedged beneath a glass office tower in Santa Monica. It's comfortingly corporate, and I'm waiting to meet a marketing consultant who will take my business life in hand and make it all make sense. <p> As I wait I fantasize. I hope she'll be more than someone with bravado and a publishing contract. I imagine she'll be a woman of fifty, with a touch of grey, a navy suit and a string of real pearls. She'll know how to enter a room in a graceful but slightly menacing manner. She'll look me in the eye, ask for $180 an hour, and then rethink my strategy, utilize proven techniques and hold late-night sessions with massive flip charts. <p> And now she actually arrives in the courtyard. Yes, she's graceful, slightly menacing, and talking on her cell phone. She has the pearls, and I'm thrilled that she does not interrupt her call to greet me. "Give me two seconds," she says, sitting down. <p> As I wait again, I look for symbols of authority: the unblinking gaze, the supreme self-confidence, the pitying smile of expertise. <p> This woman has it all, and before she finishes her call, the Urban Man has time to think: "Sartre was wrong. Life is not like a French Existentialist Novel after all. Truly, in this new Age, we need never face the universe alone. <p> Later, over salad, the consultant listens to my woes with sudden deep interest, and I find myself playing the fool-- a child of uncertain accomplishment in the presence of an adult. I make comments like, "And in another dumb move," or "Right now, it's all pretty disorganized." <p> At $180 an hour, I figure I have a right to indulge a little helplessness. <p> For a long time she takes no notes, gives no advice, and offers only grunts of benevolent understanding: "Uh. Uh huh. Aahhhh. Mmmmm. Definitely." At first I find this impressive, but over coffee, I do ask her to seize the reins. I beg her to draw some conclusions or explore some options. And still she merely nods with sympathetic wisdom: "Uh huh. Uh huh. Okay. Okay." Only when I show actual despair does she finally put down her cup and say: "Here's how I work. First I survey the facts on the ground. I may have some preliminary thoughts, but I keep those to myself until I've spoken with all the stakeholders. Then I pull together a consensus and develop a plan. Generally, I don't implement, but we can talk about implementation if you wish." "Ah," I say. "No immediate... suggestions?" "At this point, that would be counterproductive," she says, rising to go before the check arrives. <p> And suddenly, despite the happy splash of the waterfall and the hum of nearby tables, the Urban Man finds himself back in a French Existentialist novel, facing the heartless universe all by himself. <p> Copyright - 2005 Marc Porter Zasada, All Rights Reserved. <p>
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