Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Take Time to Look it Up

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It is a common belief that technology is making our children dumber. My dad is no exception. He is a mathematician and something of a walking encyclopedia, so naturally he can't say enough about how the younger generations are getting stupider by the year, relying on machines to entertain them and to do the hard work for them. On more than one occasion I've heard my dad insist, First of all, kids don't read and when they do read they aren't reading good books. And without the crutch of computers,I guarantee this generation would not be able to put a man on the moon. Their math skills aren't strong enough. Back in the good ol' days there weren't machines to do the work for you. We're getting weaker as a human race. The best way to resolve this type of conversation is to pat his shoulder encouragingly and assure him that a return to the Dark Ages is probably still a ways off, and then offer him a Diet Coke. What else can I say? My kids are among those of the stupider generation...and frankly I probably am too.

But this month I've been doing something to fix that. Maybe I'll never be a mathematician. Maybe I will never be able to help my kids with their algebra or even program my own cell phone. But the one thing that I can do is look things up. I spent a good part of March in bed and on the couch trying not to think of the fetus growing inside me as an alien monster who has injected poison into my body with the intent of killing me slowly and enlarging my rear end. It helped to watch movies and read books, so I did a lot of both of those things. And I learned that when you don't have many other demands competing for your attention it's easy to spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about random subjects you have come across during your reading and movie watching marathons. For example:

Jane Austen makes Victorian England look like such a charming era. So full of clever conversationalists and extravagant balls. But where on earth did they go to the bathroom? 

I kept imagining Elizabeth Bennet wandering through Netherfield Hall in search of a chamber pot and so finally, I just had to google it. The Victorian Web is amazing. I skimmed several articles detailing squatter potties, out houses, rudimentary flush toilets and of course, chamber pots, until I was firm in my decision that I do not want to be reincarnated to Victorian England. But you can imagine that once started on this google obsession, it's hard to cease and desist. I started keeping a list of things to look up on my nightstand. And that's how I came to know about how Four o'clock flowers only open their buds in the late afternoon:

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I know what you're going to say about this next photo because I've heard it all from Jeremy, but after reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan I had to google images of Chinese foot binding. Just keep in mind this is similar to a highway accident. You don't want to look but you are compelled by your sense of human frailty and morbid fascination:

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I also googled articles about the House of Stuart (poor Mary), the possibility that there were German U-boats off the coast of the United States during World War II (not likely), online biographies of the cast of Friends, and many other equally crucial subjects which I believe have qualified me from being lumped together with the stupid generation. I may be green around the gills and prone to freak vomiting, there may be piles of unfolded laundry decorating my bedroom floor, but I am just bursting with the newly acquired trivia of someone who spends time each week googling a list of totally random subjects.

I think it's important to remain curious. And so I entreat you to take similar measures to keep the encroaching ignorance of modern generations at bay. If you aren't sure, look it up!


  1. My mom always kept a dictionary handy for dinner-table grammar disputes. And, we always had a set of encyclopedia nearby as well. So I read all about Chinese foot binding today ~ wow, I had no idea they actually BROKE poor toddlers' toes/feet!

    1. I know, I couldn't believe it either. And once i started googling images it's kind of hard to stop...

  2. Don't know if you knew this, but foot binding creates a similar effect as high heels. . . although the heels are much more humane. I love learning and looking things up. . . although I'll never have the math skills necessary for putting a man on the moon.


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