For almost my entire adult life, and that’s a lot of living, I have been a consistent gym-goer. Staying fit, and studying how to stay fit, has always been an interest of mine. Very few of you have seen me in person, so let me assure you, I look like a classic Roman statue.
But before I digress, way back at the very first gym I ever joined, there was a trainer who told me, if you want to learn, say, how to build big shoulders, watch the guys who have big shoulders and see what they do.
It isn’t a foolproof strategy, but I’ve always followed the gist of what the trainer was saying. To this day, I pick up training methods I’ve never seen before just by keeping my eyes open at the gym. And then if I see someone with a move that’s intriguing enough, I’ll ask the person about it, and if I’m still intrigued I’ll give it a try. One thing most dedicated gym rats have in common, they love to share their knowledge. I’ve probably learned as much that way over the years as I have reading books and magazines.
Once I got old enough to understand what they mean by “nothing new under the sun,” I learned that I hadn’t invented anything innovative with this strategy. In fact, this is fairly common advice. You can’t be an expert in everything, so surround yourself with people who are, that’s the way I read it in one of those Dale Carnegie, “How to Be a Success at Everything” type books. But you don’t need to rely on experts.
Just like at the gym, wherever you are, you are surrounded by people who have at least a little knowledge about something that you don’t. And just like at the gym, most people like to be the smart one in a conversation, all they’re waiting for is the invitation to share their knowledge.
That’s one of the ways I’m so disappointed in the so-called Information Age. True, the internet has brought the potential to put the accumulated knowledge of mankind at our fingertips. But it’s also opened the door for the collected but unsolicited babblings of untold, anonymous idiots, cranks and just plain nut jobs.
This is especially true in that most insidious of inventions, “reader comments” at the end of news stories. Of course, the practice was invented to create a sense of “interactive reader engagement.” And in theory, the potential is there for the kind of constructive intellectual exchange I’m sure they used at the first pitch meeting when someone was trying to sell the idea of reader comments.
Instead, what do we usually get? Barely intelligible ramblings from people who either didn’t read the article or misunderstood every word of it. Other folks who want to fly in and unload on whatever personal agenda that has nothing to do with the story. And then there are the hardheads whose minds aren’t open to anything they don’t already believe.
And don’t forget the one inevitable idiot who writes “I’m only here for the comments,” like he’s expecting it can get a laugh for the millionth time.
But I have to say, compared to the world at large, the comments I see from truckers on our website and others tend to stay more on point and be far more insightful than the you on the internet at large. I was reminded of that recently after we ran a story about that young driver who lost control of his truck near Denver and caused a 28-vehicle pileup.
That story occurred late in the week, and I recall someone commenting early on how they’d love to get some follow-up on exactly what happened to cause such a horrific crash. I told myself that when I came back on Monday, I’d do that follow-up and report on what had been ascertained over the weekend.
The first place I stopped was our own website, where I found several of our readers had beaten me to it. They’d been following every report they could find, and in the reader comments they were sharing the information, along with their own insights based on experience. In minutes, they brought me up to date and then some. They gave me perspective I’d have never gotten from a news release.
Now, that’s what reader comments should be like.
I’m not saying we don’t occasionally get comments that go off the deep end. Even among rational commenters, I get a sense that if someone could harness the untapped anger that runs through this industry, we could abandon diesel, electric and hydrogen tomorrow and run America’s trucks on pure rage.
Still, I have found that the trucking community is similar to gym culture in that when you open the floor to discussion, there is a lot of insight to be had. I have found that online, and I have found it to be the case in person.
There are endless studies and analyses done about trucking, and I have access to some of the most brilliant minds to dedicate themselves to this profession. Their expertise is been invaluable, but it’s what I pick up from drivers that fills in the cracks the experts and company officials leave behind.
When you watch sports, who has the most interesting things to say, the play-by-play announcer who’s entire sports experience has been in the broadcast booth, or the color commentator who used to play the game? It’s the boots-on-the-ground people who will always have a kind of expertise that comes from living it instead of studying it.
Yeah, some of it is just a bunch of noise, but I’d rather filter through a few of those than some 50-page report analyzing why freight tonnage changed two-tenths of a percent.
So, in case you’re a commenter or have thought about being a commenter and you’ve wondered if anyone is paying attention, keep reading, and I’ll do the same.