Do you talk about books you haven't read? On faking cultural literacy

Earlier this month, The New York Times published a piece called "Faking Cultural Literary." In it, writer Karl Taro Greenfeld admitted to faking knowledge and said that, thanks to modern technology, it's easier than ever to pretend to know things. "I think we live in an era where it is easier to fake our way through any conversation, and pretend to have some knowledge of the subject at hand, because it is easier to pick up data and various bits of information from our social media feeds," he wrote.

Talking about books you haven't read and pretending you've read books you haven't is easier than ever. And people do it all the time: a 2013 study discovered that more than 60 per cent of people living in the U.K. pretend to have read classic books they've never actually read.

CBC Radio's The Current decided to find out what this practice says about contemporary culture. Alexandra Samuel, vice-president of social media at a marketing firm; Theresa Moritz, a lecturer in English literature at the University of Toronto; and online education researcher Doug Belshaw joined Anna Maria Tremonti to discuss "faking it." Listen to their debate in the audio player below:

media clip

Why we fake it is actually pretty simple: we fake it to fit in. "We have, as a species, the need to create social bonds with people who we want to be like," Samuel said. "People try and identify with a group they see as positive and then reinforce the qualities of their own that connect them with that group."

Faking it isn't anything new. But the internet has not only made it easier to fake knowledge, it has also presented us with more things we think we need to know about. "The range of conversations we are expected to take part in, both high and low, is bigger than ever," said Samuel.

So, should we keep faking it? Belshaw says we can, as long as we are aware of the context. "It is a way of understanding the world, but I think we need to make sure that we are not naive about the structured interests behind the technology we use."

Moritz agrees, as long as we understand the difference "between the appearance of knowledge and actual knowledge. Understanding knowledge is key."