Recently I mentioned to some friends that I had so much yoghurt, I was considering making labneh. (I didn’t, partly due to the lack of required olive oil, and partly because I didn’t think anyone in the family would eat it apart from me). One of my friends said she’d felt ignorant, when she didn’t know what labneh was, but then thought, ‘…of course you can’t know everything!’
Isn’t there a pressure to not appear ignorant? From an early age, we are praised for getting an answer right or for knowing how to do something. Saying the wrong thing can lead to embarrassment and shame. Now, with knowledge ‘on tap’ thanks to the internet, it’s possible that we never really need to not know something. When it comes to facts, we don’t even need to remember them anymore. The internet has us covered.
Of course, there are suggestions that this isn’t always a good thing. Every now and then, someone will caution that the internet and our easy access to information is making us stupid. Having spent some periods of time without it, I can honestly say that there are times when I wonder what I did before. I was in my early 20s before I could use the internet regularly at home, and around that time got my first email address. I can’t quite remember when I began using the internet for recipes, or to find out the time difference between here and Hawai’i, or to discover what Michael Jackson’s first solo album was. I’m guessing it was by the time I was 24 or 25, about fifteen years ago. And since then, the internet has grown, and grown, and grown.
It’s basically made us into a bunch of smart-arses, really. We think we know it all, but how much do we really know? Before the internet, there was a debate. There were people to talk to, people to learn from, and it required us to remember what we’d learnt. Now, that pressure to remember is no longer there, but I’m not sure that’s doing us good. The facts we glean from the internet as so often transient in nature. We mumble a quick, ‘Huh. Really?’ and then move onto the next one. Our attention spans are pitifully small.
I remember a while ago, reading about journalist Paul Miller, who was paid by the website for which he worked, The Verge, to go offline for a year. Miller had planned to do this anyway, and remove himself from New York (where he lived) so that he could have a complete change of scenery as well as a disconnection from the online world, but with The Verge’s support, he stayed in New York. As he writes in his reflection about spending the 12 months away from the internet, he did enjoy the first little while. It was good to connect with friends in person, and he found he could concentrate for longer periods of time. He enjoyed reading books.
But what transpired at the end was that simply avoiding the internet didn’t make the huge impact and difference on his life that he hoped it might. He didn’t get all the writing done that he wanted to do. Keeping in touch with people still required effort, and moreover, in this world which relies so heavily on the internet to keep in touch, he felt isolated, and because everyone else was online, that made it especially easy to be isolated.
Perhaps one of the issues with knowledge attained via the internet is that we’re getting the facts out of context. We don’t have to interact with anyone face to face. We don’t have to debate the validity of the information. I think, for example, about some of the skills I’ve learnt, or the times I’ve been taught something by a friend or relative. Those moments have a memory associated with them; there is an atmosphere, a time and place. It’s not like that on the internet.
Perhaps what the internet offers is the chance to have the world at our fingertips, but as intoxicating as that seems, it’s meaningless if there is no sense of place. It’s just facts. What good is knowing everything, if you don’t have the human connection to the knowledge? But in a simpler sense, what good is knowing everything? It’s only knowledge. There is so much more to life than that. And saying ‘I don’t know what that means’ is the first step to opening a conversation with someone, to have the opportunity to share something. We’ve allowed Google to take that away from us, in some odd attempt to save us that embarrassment which shouldn’t really be embarrassment at all.
Do we really want to know it all? How sad if we can’t admit that there are things we don’t know, and what a shame if we decide that the only way to learn them is through an internet search, rather than asking a real person.