Once a week or so The Solicitor and I meet for coffee before work. It’s nothing fancy, a few tables in the back of a garage shop, but the coffee is fair and the break from the mind-numbing tedium of the working week is always welcome.
The Giant joins us frequently and he inevitably interrupts our earnest discussions to ask sarcastically whether we’ve solved the world’s problems yet. No, we tell him, and it’s not that we couldn’t. It’s simply never occurred to us to try. We focus our conversation instead on the pressing pisco-political issues of the day and we debate these with a fervor that would make the most fiery Southern preacher appear timid.
The Solicitor apologetically extricates himself from the current debate and heads off to an appointment. Having some time before my day begins I order a third cup. A guy walks in and our eyes meet briefly. I see a look of opportunity flash across his face and I regret it immediately. You can tell from a mile away a guy who earns his crust in personal finance. His shoes have a bright, dustless glint and are pointy enough to kick a snake in the asshole. He walks over to greet casually while trying his best to look like an average Joe. His jeans must have cost what a guided trip in the Seychelles does and his shirt is so crisp that you can hear it crack as he sits down. Not a nose hair protrudes inelegantly beneath his titanium frameless spectacles and his eyebrows are impossibly neatly groomed. His hands are the colour of wedding cake icing and are as soft as orchid petals. His watch is roughly the size of an RDP house. He is testament to a life of unfettered privilege in the same way that a stained overall and steel capped boots are to a life of honest work.
He’s an expert on matters financial. I know this because it’s what he tells me as he pushes a gold-leafed business card towards me. “A registered financial expert” I read aloud to myself as I fight the urge to roll my eyes. Let’s be honest here, any guy who can use the future-value function on a financial calculator is met with a certain level of distrust by those of us who struggle with long division. He is a snake-oil salesman in the grandest tradition of the occupation.
His decaf mocha soy latte arrives and as he stirs an aspartame-free sugar substitute into it he leans in towards me and whispers in a conspiratorial tone. “Bitcoin” is all he says and he leans back, nodding. “Cryptocurrencies are the future“, he opines, “and you have to be taking strong positions before, as in the case of those who bought into Steinhoff late, you’re left behind“, he adds while tapping a magnificently manicured finger on his business card.
He reeks of Old Spice and bullshit as he goes on to quote percentage returns on investments and some more nonsense about elevators and getting in on the ground floor. Instantly cauterizing the membrane on the inside of my throat I down my coffee in an inelegant gulp, slap a note down onto the table and excuse myself.
I spurn his expert advice and later that day invest part of my annual bonus across a diverse portfolio of alternate investments: a case of Heineken quarts and a quick-pick for the R100 million lotto jackpot – the rest of it I just wasted.
I like social media. It’s the fetid mud hole in which the proclaimed experts and the garden variety idiot can wrestle without a winner ever having to be declared. It’s like the colosseum of old, the great leveling ground where everyone is a gladiator and they’re all equal. There’s a lot to learn there if you have a mind to, and I suggest that over time you will, but the point is that you don’t have to if you don’t want to. There’s something very rock ‘n roll about that, and I love it.
Perhaps my perspective on and characterization of social media and it’s participants is unfairly condescending. The point is that it doesn’t really matter either way. I mean, it’s just my opinion, it’s not an expert opinion.
Sure, to be better fishers we should be heeding the experts, reading Walton through LaFontaine, practicing our casting to flags on the lawn, learning the encyclopedia of knots and memorizing the Latin names and life cycles of common aquatic bugs. In an age where the shelves of the average bookshop are dominated by self-help books (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Nymph Fishermen will be available as soon as a decision is made as to whether it belongs in the sport, hobbies, science, philosophy or personal growth department) the average angler is looking for a safe, non-competitive place where he can wear his tatty hat, play with expensive toys, drink strong spirits from a tin cup and share some sort of intimacy with friends. And that’s where social media communities have become relevant. They extend this sense of human connection (you don’t need to point out the irony of that statement) from the river bank to the living room. The growing group of people that I consider to be fraternal brothers I almost exclusively met online. Most of them are experts in one way or the other, but you’d never know it to talk to them.
I’ve been involved in a social media group of several thousand members for some time now and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that his sincerity defines the member. If someone is insincere they need to be put on a stool and pelted mercilessly with rocks until quite dead. Using hashtags to create the impression that you’re a member of some “pro-team” or that your efforts are in some way endorsed? Get up on the stool. Chastising people for keeping fish where the rules allow it? Get onto the stool. Mocking first attempts at fly tying? Get onto the stool. Looking down or being disparaging towards users of entry level, cheap or old gear? Get onto the stool. Contemptuously dismissing other opinions? Get onto the stool. Dispensing advice like a sage but not admitting to making mistakes? Get onto the stool. Taking yourself overly seriously? Don’t be shy, jump up on the stool, there’s plenty of rocks to go around.
When all is said and done you’re going to be judged by the company that you keep. If you take your advice from fools you’re likely, and not altogether unkindly, going to be judged a fool. But the way I see it that’s your own business and by now you should know how I feel about things that make you happy. Just be mindful of the nature of expert advice, I’ve seen enough print articles on “ten indispensable flies for summer streams” being dispensed with by the same writer a year later. Changes in opinion are fundamentally what keep magazines in print. Find me two experts that agree on most stuff most of the time and I’ll eat one of them. Honestly, in the world of fly fishing if you can separate the expert from the egomaniac you’re a giant leap ahead of the game.
Oh, and as for my investments, I got three numbers on the lotto and won my money back. The deposit on the empties from my case of quarts was substantially more than I would have been left with had I invested the same sum in bitcoin – and I got to drink the beer.