That original child's sense of truth and rightness has since expanded. I've discovered the challenges of being a grown-up: of holding two competing thoughts in my head at the same time, of coming to terms with the scarcity of true experts in anything, of the actuality that our senses are terribly finite and we essentially construct our own experience, of the tension between loving someone with your whole heart and dealing with the realities of our human frailties, of confronting the fears that make us do things that - whatever story we tell ourselves - we are deeply not proud of. And, of finding out who I am, and finally being able to say "I don't know", often.
But still, but still, despite how my sense of truth has evolved into something as complex and organic as we human beings are, still I search for it. I search for truth not as a destination, but as part of living. I can't believe there is none to be found, though what I find is never what I expect. I don't know what it would be like not to search, not to ask. To wander aimless and be content with that, I think I probably fear that more than death.
Many years later, I found myself in a job where I learned how to ask questions, ask nuanced questions of many different sorts of people for a consequential reason. Not for public consumption but only to learn and maybe help make an iconic decision in the lifespan of a company. We did good work, work that was good and, when we were lucky, work that was for good. I would ask for information but often they gave me stories, of the origins of industries, iconic founders, breakthrough technologies, and sometimes just the weather and what happened that morning in their small Midwestern town. At a hundred interviews a month, it's not too much of an exaggeration to say I racked up thousands of interviews.
I learned that if I asked the right questions, almost every person had something to teach me, each had some different fragment of the truth. I feel lucky that I had the space and time to listen to so many people. I love the academic environment but it doesn't have a monopoly on truth. Quite the opposite, most of the unfound truths lie deep in the hearts, minds and guts of individuals. They rarely make it into the light of day, and don't travel far even when they do.
Then came Quora. Not perfect or universal or complete, but so dense with new truths that I feel like a gold miner that has been stolidly chipping at rock with his pickaxe and then comes across the Grasberg Mine. It gets criticized - that it's elitist, a private club with pseudo-celebrities, that it's groupthink, snarky, trivial, and doomed. Maybe. It clearly favors a certain brand of thinking - one that is highly intuitive and rational.
But it's also rich and textured, a mass of free and faulty human beings asking and answering questions. There are times when a powerful emotionally resonant story handily overwhelms an array of linearly rational arguments. Or a well-timed brilliantly funny quip puts an elaborately over-thought question to final rest. And remarkably often, a top post will satisfy some hunger I never knew existed, put into words something I knew but had never surfaced, and a part of me sighs "yes."
I think Quora would be very difficult to replicate inside of an organization, and I know those who have tried. The beauty of Quora is that its participants are (mostly) free. Free to "follow" their passions, free to research and share data, to provide spontaneous feedback, to tell true stories, to be hilarious at the risk of being offensive. Consider what would happen to this vibrancy in a traditional large enterprise - it's like being on a date with your Catholic parents watching. Many-to-many knowledge-sharing must be free to stay alive and aboil. But somehow it must also manage to leave us our identities, so we have compelling reasons to enact that freedom, reasons of relationship, status and career.
And it's useful! Questions that I would normally ask a knowledgeable friend or acquaintance, I can find credible, well-reasoned answers on Quora. I love it for some of the reasons I love Google - it saves me time and sometimes gives me answers I could not have found elsewhere.
Answers I could not have found elsewhere. There. That's the answer to the charge of elitism. Of course it's populated by the elite - who else but the elite has the rare but basically requisite freedoms of time, education and assurance of social status, to actively engage on Quora. But the platform is essentially available to all - the windows are wide open for those who want to come eavesdrop. "What company do you think will acquire Square?" "Why did Marissa Mayer really leave Google?" "What's it like to work at that hedge fund?" (or 7/24/2012: "Who is the lead underwriter for the Square IPO?" - wait, Square is doing an IPO? and Morgan Stanley is in the running?) These are questions and answers of the sort that were once asked and answered on golf courses, in cigar rooms, at cocktail parties - knowledge shared within rarefied circles through small talk and storytelling. Quora erodes the exclusivity of access to the knowledge held by our modern-day elite class, not completely but substantively.
Paradoxically, at a time when even our most progressive cities still experience social segregation by educational class, Quora might actually be one of the most populist platforms out there.