New Year’s Eve and Answers

January 2, 2016

It’s New Year’s Eve, about 38 hours ago. Dinner with seven very cool people … and me. Excellent company, fine wine, and decent food! Alas, at the table almost everyone had a phone at the ready, and when the discussion veered off into uncertain territory, fingers started moving, seeking answers.

And then … the person most of us knew least well said “do we need to have the answer?” He went on:

Is it necessary for us to get answers to every question? Can’t there be stuff we just don’t know?

Wow! What an odd, interesting, and refreshing perspective. Leaving phones at the table aside—and with the knowledge that I’m as bad an offender as anyone I know—how did we get to a place where we can know anything we want to know, 24/7, with a few finger motions?

The obvious answer is easy. Computers, the Internet, miniaturization, and Google explain in a pretty direct 30-year pathway how I end up at a table with a device in my hand which can tell me almost anything. (Jump in, smart people, if you think I’ve missed a big cog, or if I have my order wrong.)

I’m after more, and confess readily that I don’t have good answers. Google and the Internet exist because we demand information. Smart phones are part of our lives because we want the knowledge and the ability to connect, right now! But why?

As a dedicated trivialist, I love information, even for its own sake. No doubt, being well informed adds value to a life. I take pride in knowing stuff, and I suspect (and certainly hope) the knowledge makes me more interesting to others. On the other hand, has the notion of being well informed gone too far?

Over the years I have read about famous people whose papers will be sealed until dates which are not in any daily planner on which I rely. In particular, I recall an announcement that papers belonging to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis will be sealed for many decades. (I think the files may have been made public at an earlier date, but the answer matters not at all.) I remember getting my head around the notion that I’ll never be able to know what her papers / files report. The sensation was odd, and I think it came soon after her death in 1994, when the Internet was still pretty new, and smart phones were not part of my universe.

The Internet is a valuable resource. This blog does not exist without it, for it provides a cheap and easily accessible platform for me to spout off. Because of the Internet I also have resources which allow me to put some heft behind my words. And I do enjoy very much having the platform to share thoughts and knowledge.

Still, in 2016 I find myself too reliant on the computer and the smart phone, reading far fewer books than I used to. The contact with others through social media is great, but I fear that my knowledge base is getting dumbed down. The focus on trivial information, at the expense of time spent reading books by great authors concerns me more than I had realized. As does finding time in my life to engage directly with others.

I’m not going off the grid, I’m going to keep writing, and my smart phone is going nowhere. I’m hoping, though, that I can use the question, posed by the fellow I knew least well at the table, to effect a priorities shift. Stay tuned, and please share any thoughts you have on this issue.

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