Saturday, February 9, 2013

Knowledge Now! Now! Now!


There used to be a time when it wouldn’t have seemed unreasonable to have to wait a few minutes to find out, say, how many people died in the battle of Gettysburg. There would probably be a reference book in the bookcase, or you could call the librarian, or you could actually go to the library. It would have seemed petulant to bang on your desk because a page was taking a couple seconds to load. And it would have been. But patience isn’t a virtue we’ve lost. It’s a virtue we used to have only because we had no choice.

We’re going way back here. I was still a fresh-faced forty-three, with eyebrows and periods and the whole works. And when I turned on my first computer, I could hear it cogitating away, and then I’d dial up the internet—it was like setting sail for the new world in a creaky old boat. Wheeeee whirrrrr bong bong clickety clickety… you don’t stay there and wait. Lawsy! You’ve got time to go out and hitch up old Dobbin to the buckboard and birth a baby or two, and when you come back, why, you’re on line, and ready to roar. You fetch up your mail, dash into a favorite website—we used to visit farts.com for the fart of the day—all the important stuff. You keep a stack of dollar bills at your side and peel one off to feed the internet every few minutes, and then you jump off again.

It was years before I realized there was never any reason to wonder about anything ever again. That the answer to all of your questions was right there inside the screen. No need go to the trouble of trying to knit up a string of neurons in your brain in the right sequence to pull out a memory—no need even to spell anything right. You can just type in “getysb” and right underneath will pop up “did you mean gettysburg battle of how the hell many people died there anyway” and bingo, you can click on that.

I grew up being conditioned to the instant response, though. Daddy was a regular search engine, and as long as he remained alive I really didn’t have to hone my research skills, or, frankly, remember anything. He was reliable, too. Can you explain the theory of relativity, Daddy? Yes he could. How do yellow jackets find a picnic? Why is electricity? What is this bug and, ew, what is it doing with that long hangy thing? He knew it all.

Well, son, back when I was coming up...
I came to recognize that he had some weak spots in his knowledge. For instance, he drew bizarre connections between homosexuality and the decline of the Roman Empire. Otherwise, he was solid.

But even he was no Google.

Anyway, Daddy’s gone and I’ve moved on. And like most adults, I’ve come to realize my father was not the perfect fount of knowledge anyway. He had gaps. That lady who used to play the lady married to the curmudgeon on that old TV show, the one with the horse, you know the one that’s married in real life to the dude who used to sit in the top left square of Hollywood Squares? Her mother. Is she still alive? Google can totally handle that. 

56 comments:

  1. But Wikipedia is only as successful as it is because some of us stuff it with the knowledge we have accumulated over the years. So it's like having multiple 'your dads' experts on hand, all with different and maybe overlapping fields of knowledge.

    Praise be to the good education we received back then :-)

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    1. I'm still quivering over the "multiple my dads" concept. Exciting and terribly frightening all at the same time.

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  2. Remember that sound you used to hear, of the computer dialing the modem? I still remember hearing that for the first time. The excitement! I was connecting to the WORLDWIDE WEB from my basement!

    And I do still remember the first time I realized that I no longer needed to wait for an answer. My kids asked me, "Where does cork come from, anyway?" and I had just opened my mouth to give the standard "We'll have to look that up when we go to the library this week" reply when it dawned on me: hadn't a friend said something about some website called Wikipedia?

    I've never looked back. The librarians were sick of us, anyway.

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    1. Of course, since we never need to wait for an answer, none of it ever sticks with me anyway. I'll look it up again tomorrow. Which, come to think of it, was the same way when I was little.

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  3. I read this great article the other day about this very subject only the theory was that even though we have more knowledge at our fingertips we, in reality, gain nothing from it because... all search engines and webpages these days, including sites like the Huffington Post, offer to you either sites you have already visited or sites similar to the ones you have already visited. Therefore, you are really learning nothing new because all you see are things that you want to see. This is the phenominon that Fox News relies on. They discovered long ago that it was much less expensive and more profitable to simply show people what they want to see than offer up real news.
    However, I, like you, love the internet and thrive on the instant, though mostly useless, information available. Google on!

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    1. True, when it comes to the news sites, but I did recently look up eighteenth-century vampires for the first time. And did you know that "vampire poop" brings up almost 3 million results?

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  4. As long as you are very careful where you get the information. It is still created by fallable humans and sometimes they get it so wrong.

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  5. Oh, my--I had forgotten all about farts.com. Thanks for the memories!

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  6. Having been Daddy's girl, I grew up with (1) the desire to know all the answers and (2) the ability to look them up. Daddy provided me with a huge dictionary and a set of encyclopedia. Eventually I bought almanacs and a more modern encyclopedia too. (Our original, now more than 100 years old, resides with my son.)

    When Daddy died, my mother knew she still had someone to ask, as she had relied upon Daddy for forty years. Yeah, I like Google, I like Wikipedia...but I still have reference books in my house.

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    1. You know how writer people love to have gobs of books? I have hardly any books. Except books to look things up in.

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  7. I used to get impatient trying to find stuff in the encyclopedia too, for what it's worth! I was so easily distracted by articles fore and aft of the target. Same with dictionaries. I don't think this is a problem with the medium in my case, it's just me.

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    1. Words in dictionaries are like potato chips.

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    2. You're not alone in that.

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  8. Oh, and please tell Pootie that's an awesome outfit.

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    1. I don't know how he affords all that.

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    2. I can answer that one! Pootie has a wad of bills and it's a dime to a dollar he's not "feeding the internet."

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    3. Pretty sure he has credit card numbers too.

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  9. When I debate issues with my mother she always claims I have an unfair advantage because I have that "darn" machine to provide me with all the answers. I tell her the computer is not much different than a library except there is much more information on the Internet that is bogus. We then got into a big argument about the meaning of "bogus!"

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    1. Made me look up the derivation. And they don't know what it is. I hate when they don't know where a word came from. I want to know the full parentage and what boat it sailed in on.

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  10. I never had any patience. Still don't. Way overrated. But I do remember my first AOL disk in the mail and then, as you say, paying up the wazoo for the damn thing.

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    1. I had a plan that only cost me ten bucks a month but only for about five minutes a day. I lost them after spending the worst month of my life talking to someone ("Veronica?" "Tiffany?") in India to be able to get my email working again.

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  11. Ooh, ooh! Reminds me of the first time I was astounded at the power of the Internets! Years back, I'd worked at the Dolphin Research Center in Florida, where they were readying two long-time captive dolphins for release into the wild. From time to time, in the years that followed, I wondered if Joe and Rosie had ever actually been freed. Shortly after I first had access to the Web, not REALLY expecting to find anything, I typed in Joe and Rosie dolphin. Lo and behold: finally finally an answer: yes, they'd been released & sighted once afterward. Truly, I marveled over having that answer for a long time (hmmm, guess I still am).

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    1. Plus, you can look up old boyfriends.

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    2. You reminded me. I just did, again. This time I found #1. Hoo boy! A sight to give you sore eyes!

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    3. Well, you could say that the years were no kinder to him than he deserved.

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  12. The only problem I have with this brave, new world is that I forget what I wanted to ask Google about much of the time before I get it typed in.

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    1. Yeah. At least with the dictionary you could find something else to look at along the way.

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  13. I just had a conversation with my son about this very topic. He said that today, there is never an excuse not to know something. He is currently remodeling his old two-family house into a one-family house. We're talking major work. He has no construction background, but said he looks everything up on the Internet. Move a structural wall? There's a video on YouTube for that! Never replaced windows and doors before? Find out how on YouTube!

    I told him I was afraid what my doctor would do before, say, an appendectomy...

    I remember when I first got on the Internet in 1997-ish - I thought of it as this "giant cookbook out there."

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    1. Giant cookbook. Fart of the Day. Same general idea.

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  14. When I started In on the internets there were hardly any sites except those relevant to programmers. We were thrilled when we found ourselves at the page of those early adopters, the Swedish Ferret Society. Unfortunately it was in Swedish and we couldn't figure out how to leave. Had to reboot the computer.

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    1. I have no idea what you just said, and it charmed me anyhow.

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  15. I remember standing with a handful of folks behind the computer in the office of a Stanford tech guy showing us Mosaic--brand new--and the incredible color photos of master art works from a museum that it found. I think the museum was the Louvre. That was an eye popper.

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    1. The Louvre. I've heard of that. That was in a Dan Brown novel, right?

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  16. I saw all of this coming back in 1968. That was when I was in our high school's production of "The Desk Set", about the marvel of computers vs. the instant recall of a certain corporate librarian-type. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050307/ In the movie version, Katherine Hepburn plays the lead of "Bunny Watson". In our high school version, Patty Parks got that role. I think that Marshall Knudsen got the Spencer Tracy role. In an ironic twist (one that would presage an unfortunate phase of my early adulthood), I got cast as the bumbling office gossip. And if you don't believe me, or don't understand what the heck I'm trying to say here, or don't see any connection between this and the rest of the thread, well then just go Google it....

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    1. I totally remember you in The Desk Set. Hey, it's an old story, right? It's John Henry all over again.

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  17. I'm so glad to have Wikipedia and Google. I never asked Dad anything since the day, when I was about 10, that I asked him, after reading about David and the Philistines, "What is a foreskin?"

    And he lied to me! He also turned interestingly red, right up to his ears. By which I knew there was something fishy about his answer; a circle of skin off the forehead.

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    1. HA HA HA HA HA HA!

      I hope he took that nasty Bible away from your young impressionable mind.

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    2. Is there a Wikipedia or Google entry for "ROFL"- never mind, that's exactly what I'm doing now. Our teacher was just commenting that that book is so unhelpful on many topics- "that talks about at least 8 forms of marriage, most of which involve wives, plural, and if that's not enough, some concubines too."

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    3. Oh, and don't forget boiling and eating your son.

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  18. A friend just explained a game that he and another friend play. They both go on google and start a bet as to how many letters they must type before the google figures out the question they are asking. It is scary how often it reads the mind after just 2 or three letters.

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    1. I'm wondering, do they tailor their guesses to the person querying? Based on past clickiness?

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  19. So I was arguing with a buncha whippersnappers the other evening and they pulled out their smart phones. ChaCha, Ask. Google. Cheez...I can't even embellish the truth anymore. There's a table and graph for how far one can walk barefoot through the snow to school, to town, or to get a bottle of soda pop.

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    1. They've taken all the fun out of dissembling and hyperbole. The bastards.

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  20. Just one more thing I appreciate but can't get my head around......

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  21. In a few years' time we'll simply look at the computer and it'll sense what our question is and answer it without our lifting a finger. Though it'll still bombard us with adverts for laxatives and dating sites in between the answers....

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    1. I seem to have an amazing ability to not notice the ads. People complain about what's being advertised in the margins of their facebook pages, for instance, and I realize my eyes never stray over there. Now the things that go all strobed-out and threaten to give you a seizure...

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  22. Hey Murr! These are wise words and warm memories. I did consider the possibility many years ago that a decent search engine would eventually become an index of EVERYTHING. And now, it is. Relativity? Simple. Analytics of census expansion in Iowa?No problem. Extreme lesbians dressed as chickens? Check. God bless technology. Indigo

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    1. Now I'm wondering what we'd get if we type in "God Technology." Have you ever tried to look up something legitimate but couldn't figure out a way to put in keywords that wouldn't bring up porn? I can't think of an example right now, but...

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  23. It's called Instant Karma and our kids are worst than we are about it.

    I'm just waiting for the day they can just inject knowledge directly into the brain. After all who has the time?

    Ever notice that for any concept you may Google there's a rock group by the same name? Try it. :-)

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  24. I do occasionally have a strange nostalgia for the days when I or my husband would claim to recognize someone in a film as "that guy from that other thing" (which the other would immediately understand as a particular French film or what have you), the other party would disagree "That isn't him, you are terrible at recognizing faces" and then we'd argue about it. IMDB.com takes us from declaration to disagreement to smug satisfaction in an awful damn hurry.

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  25. Used to be that we walked all over and our jobs included physical labor. Now we sit at work, on the way to and from work, and after work as well. And for some reason we grow fat and flabby. I think I'll be a luddite and continue looking things up in books. As has been mentioned, you run across so many interesting things on the way.

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