Farewell to wonder

By Eddie Adelman | Apr 30, 2021

As a child, do you remember lying back on the grass with your best friend and looking up at the night sky?

“How many stars do you think there are?”

“I don’t know. A lot.”

“A thousand?”

“More like a million.”

“There sure are a lot.”

If you’ll notice, neither child said, “Let’s Google it.”

Even if there was a definitive answer to that question, it didn’t matter.

We were content to simply bask in the sheer wonder of it all. There was an unspoken joy in not knowing, which allowed our imaginations to run wild.

I can actually remember a time before smartphones when a bunch of friends would pile into a car for an excursion. At some point the conversation would reach an impasse as we argued over some inconsequential question, like who played Mary Ann on "Gilligan’s Island."

We’d argue and argue until we came to a tollbooth. Then the driver would actually ask the toll taker if he or she knew the answer. Occasionally the toll taker actually knew the answer and served as an early prototype for the search engine.

But if the toll taker looked at us as if we were crazy, it didn’t matter. We just moved on to the next topic of discussion, like who threw the most touchdown passes in an NFL season. “It was Joe Montana.” “No, it was Dan Marino.” “You’re both wrong. It was Ted Williams.” “Who even invited this guy?”

It reached a point where we no longer cared because we were having so much fun and reveled in the camaraderie. Fun and camaraderie. Try getting that with Google Chrome.

In the “olden” days, encyclopedias served as the go-to resource for many a question. But that involved getting off the couch, going to the bookshelf, locating the correct edition, opening the book, and finding the correct page for the answer. And who’s got that kind of time these days?

Today it’s a whole different ballgame.

With modern civilization steeped in the Information Age, not knowing is just unacceptable. Why would you let a question linger when the answer is right there at your fingertips? Literally.

And I’m as guilty as the next person. Even as I write this, I’m hopping onto the internet for names, places, dates, spellings, synonyms, grammar, etc.

Or I’ll be watching CNN and they’ll mention a former UN ambassador. I automatically Google the name to see which president he or she served under and if that diplomat is still alive.

Did I really need to know the answer to those questions? In hindsight — no. But at that moment, it seemed really urgent.

Now I’m not saying that our need to find answers is wrong. I’m just saying that there’s a time and a place for it.

Science, medicine and exploration are all based on finding the answers to big questions. Penicillin was a nice answer. And who can argue with MRIs? Likewise, we might still believe the world is flat if Magellan hadn't been so hell-bent on finding the answer to that question.

But unless you’re on "Jeopardy," do you really need to know the capital of Uzbekistan, or the depth of the Mariana Trench, or who invented the Slinky?

Or, for that matter, how many stars are in the night sky? Personally, I’m content with “a lot.”

Let’s face it. The internet isn’t going away any time soon, not as long as we keep feasting on this modern-day tree of knowledge.

But sometimes I wonder how much better off we are, now that so much is knowable with the push of a key. And will we one day come to regret the loss of wonder that accompanies all that instant knowledge?

By the way, it was Dawn Wells who played Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island.”

I just Googled it…. So, busted.

Eddie Adelman is a writer who lives in Belfast.

 

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Kevin Riley | May 02, 2021 07:22

Magellan and his contemporaries, to including just about everyone knew, the earth was a sphere. Pythagoras solved that problem in the 6th century.

I knew that had happened long before Magellan's but I couldn't remember who it was, So....I....used....Google.

Guilty ;)



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