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Sunday, April 27, 2008

A few words of advice about advice

By Dick Hirsch

There is so much advice available these days that it’s difficult to understand why things can get fouled up. But they do.

Advice has always been easily divided into two types. The first is the kind that might be called professional, for only the obvious reason: because you pay for it. The other advice sources are free. The area of free advice has been expanding exponentially in recent years, causing what might be characterized as an advice glut.

There has always been more free advice available than professional advice, but the free advice category has become so large and demonstrative that the amateurs now dwarf the pros. That growth has caused me to wonder whether the authorities should at long last rewrite the well-known estimate of the value of free advice.

The advice monitors have traditionally issued this definition of the presumptive assessment of its value: “Free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it.”

Years ago that might have been true. It may still be true today, but the horizon for advice has been substantially widened. Yes, there surely has been growth among the professional advisors, but it hardly matches the availability of free advice.

The vast majority of that free advice comes to us through the courtesy of the media. The Internet is surely the most prolific source of advice of every description. Got the hiccups? Just tell that to your search engine and in less than a second you will have over 2,820,000 sources of information and cures. Having trouble with your bed of petunias? No problem: here are 640,000 articles, more than anyone would ever, ever want to see.

Let’s consider the daily newspaper as another obvious example. Years go, every paper of any size had a writer who would offer cooking hints, typically advising on a new recipe for making a tuna casserole or a lemon chiffon pie. Many papers published a daily syndicated advice column on domestic affairs, offering husbands, wives, parents and others, sage counsel on family matters. The sports page often had “how to” columns on bowling or golf. That was about the extent of the available advice. The rest of the paper was filled with the news of the day, a concept which has apparently become obsolete and been growing less urgent as newspapers seek a different role. Newspapers have become primary advice givers in every phase of activity. TV, too, has an excess of advice, an endless supply that is both variable and seemingly inexhaustible.

Yes, we are in an era of advice overload and, welcome as advice has always been, there is an obvious downside. What do you believe? Some of the advice is conflicting. Much of the advice relates to health, often counseling both boomers and their parents on how to remain healthy and vibrant.

Is Vitamin D beneficial? If so, how much? If not, why not? What about the salutary effects of grape juice? Is it good or does it contain too much sugar? What about weight training? More and more men and women are at the health club, seeking new ways to forestall the inevitable. Should they be doing curls and benchpresses? Or will that cause unwelcome joint and muscle stress?

Yes, too much advice can be confusing, especially when it is acquired at no cost.

You understand that I wouldn’t be writing this if I had not recently adopted some advice that I read about in the paper or discovered recommended on the Internet.

That is exactly how I came to be doing pushups and crossword puzzles, not at the same time, of course, but on a regular basis. I don’t remember why I stopped doing pushups years ago. It surely is a basic exercise, but for some reason I stopped. Now I have started again, having read that it is effective and important for building upper body strength. It requires no special equipment and can be done anywhere. The same is true of crosswords. I never bothered with them, but I have known people for whom crosswords were considered ideal brain calisthenics. Cruising, as many of us are, through middle age, crosswords have a certain appeal.

Time will tell if any of this free advice proves worthwhile. Meanwhile, I just learned that Idaho has allocated funds to begin teaching chess to all second and third graders. Should I be considering chess lessons? I welcome your advice.



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