Saturday, January 29, 2011

"The Human Head Weighs Eight Pounds" 8 / 30

Earlier this evening I wondered about the origin of the phrase “gave him a bum’s rush”, and Google came to my rescue. 

A few weeks ago, I wondered what that little silvery plastic hole was on a bag of coffee beans, and Google came to my rescue.

About a month ago, Noah asked “where do spiders go in the winter”, and Google came to my rescue.

Shannon and I have 1.3 million arguments per week about movies, politics, music and history (I kept track for a month, that’s an average) and, in almost every instance, Google comes to our rescue.

People forget that, in the year 2011, the difference between being educated and ignorant is about thirty seconds on the internet.  Now (warning, age stereotype coming!) if you are over the age of fifty, I can understand.  When you were a kid, we didn’t have these new-fangled computers, and you may not trust them all that much.  But anyone younger than that has had computers in their lives for the overwhelming majority of them and the internet for the last twenty or so years.  OK, OK, twenty is probably a stretch for the average (i.e. not tech-savvy) user, but not too much of one.

I frequent a lot of message forums, for various things – games, photography, writing, etc. and invariably someone asks a question on the forums that would have been answered in about thirty seconds.  In fact, in most instances it probably took them a lot longer to type out their question on the forum than it would have to complete a search using their engine of choice.  I know these people aren’t internet morons – they are on an internet forum asking questions after all – so I can’t help but wonder why they are wasting their own and other people’s time.  I love it, yes, I am an asshole, when someone asks one of these ridiculous questions, and someone else answers it with Let Me Google That For You, or on the even snarkier side, gives a link, usually cleverly disguised, as I have done here, to an even better site.  And by better I mean far more sarcastic and demeaning.

I see this all the time in forwarded emails as well.  “Kidnappers Use Ether in Perfume Scam to Claim Victims” or “Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Causes Chemical Burn”… c’mon people.  Thirty seconds to avoid passing these sorts of things along, thirty seconds to check your facts before sending this stuff to other people, some of whom are just as likely as you to over react and send them along to their mailing lists…  it really isn’t too much to ask. is a great resource for this.  They’ve got a database of thousands of hoaxes, and a rather large number of ones that you think would be hoaxes, but after investigation turned out to be real.  Bookmark it and entertain yourself.

Maybe we’re just losing the ability to think critically about things.  Perhaps we’ve been so well conditioned to do as we’re told, and to accept what the media tells us, that we’ve forgotten how to think for ourselves, how to question someone when they say something that makes us (or should make us) think “there’s something not quite right about that.”

It seems that students are no longer rewarded for asking for proof, for trying to look at the other side of an argument, and for questioning teachers.  I’m sure that makes it easier for the teachers, they can just churn out thousands of students faster and easier – no unnecessary and messy answers to provide.

And I know it makes it easier for the police and politicians, “The Man” as it were.  When we accept that we are supposed to live in fear so that they can go to war in order to keep us safe, that makes their job a lot easier.

When we accept the marketing machine’s suggestions that we must buy buy buy in order to be good citizens, and that if we don’t buy buy buy we’ll be fat, lonely, have bad skin and be surrounded by thirty cats, we’re sure making the entire capitalist system work better – which helps the politicians who pay the teachers… what a wonderful circle of ignorance.

We need, as parents and educators, to remind our kids that its not only acceptable to question authority some times, but imperative that they do it.  And that is a hard message to teach kids, particularly your own - “Yes you should question authority son, but just go to bed right now and stop asking why!”  If anyone knows how, please let me know. 

In the meantime, don’t forget that you have more knowledge than has ever existed (and its growing at an ever increasing rate) at your literal fingertips and don’t be afraid to ask “Why?” about something.  Because if you don’t, who will?

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